Madison County’s house district stays intact

Under the initial plan approved Aug. 17 by the Montana Districting and Apportionment Commission, House District 71 will turn into HD 72, but largely remain intact.

“It appears they’re going to leave Madison County pretty well alone,” said Madison County Commissioner Dan Happel, who travelled to Helena to testify before the commission. “At least in our area, I think they did a reasonable job of doing it right.”

The districting and apportionment commission is created every 10 years by authority of the Montana Constitution to redraw the state’s legislative district boundaries in accordance with changes in population discovered during the official U.S. Census.

In the past, that redistricting process has been criticized for being political, said commission presiding officer Jim Regnier, who was appointed by the Montana Supreme Court.

The commission is comprised of five members, four of which are appointed by legislative leaders – two from each party. Regnier serves as the tiebreaker, in a sense.

However, his goal has continued to focus on bringing the commission toward a compromise.

“There was a lot of compromising that was done and that was one of the things I felt was important because this process in the past has been so controversial,” Regnier said. “I really tried to engineer compromises between the two partisan sides of our commission and to a large extent I think we accomplished it.”

Prior to the commission meeting two weeks ago, some residents in Madison County and many in Jefferson County were concerned the proposed plans would essentially combine parts of both counties with what was essentially a rural Butte district.

Some of the proposed plans carved off parts of the current HD 71 in both the Ruby Valley and Big Sky area.

What seemed certain is HD 71 would change somehow since population within the district had grown.

Currently, HD 71 includes Whitehall, Cardwell and a small portion of southern Jefferson County along with all of Madison County. One of the goals of the commission was to try and get equal populations in all house districts, Regnier said. This goal meant that part of HD 71 was going to have to go somewhere else.

The plan approved Aug. 17 has Whitehall going with what is essentially a Jefferson County district, HD 75.

House District 71 will change to HD 72 and pick up a rural portion of Silver Bow County.

The plan means that Butte will lose a representative dropping from four legislatures representing the area to three.

House District 73, which encompasses all of Beaverhead County, will stretch north all the way to Interstate 90, west of Butte.

Another benefit of the proposed plan is that the Big Sky portion of Madison County will stay in the HD 72, Happel said.

The plan approved by the commission will be open for public comment until the beginning of the 2013 legislative session in January. The next step is for the commission to take the legislative districts and carve out the senate districts, Regnier said. That will happen in November. A public hearing on the plan will be scheduled in December and the final plan will be sent to the legislature for review in January.

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