Idaho Republicans on Thursday kicked off the first day of a three-day state party convention, making it clear they have one eye on the November election and another on 2020.
Hundreds of delegates from across the state gathered in Pocatello on Thursday to talk party policies, possible loyalty pledges and listen to speeches from top GOP political candidates.
However, a handful started the convention huddled in a private meeting focused exclusively on redrawing Idaho's congressional and legislative district maps. The Associated Press was not allowed to attend the two-hour meeting, because party officials said members would be discussing "internal" issues.
Members discussed working with the GOP-dominant Legislature during the 2019 session to push changes that would affect the state's independent redistricting commission, according to at least one delegate who attended the meeting.
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The overall goal is to add at least another member to the six-member commission, said Steve Millington, a Twin Falls Republican. Yet details — such as how many people could be added or how they would be appointed — are still being discussed.
Currently, districts for Congress and the state Legislature are drawn every 10 years by a six-member commission answerable only to the courts. The majority and minority party leaders in each legislative chamber select one person to serve on the commission; the state chairs of the Republican and Democratic parties also each select a commissioner. Commissioners cannot be government officials or lobbyists.
At least two-thirds of the commissioners must vote to approve a redistricting map.
The bipartisan system has been in place since 1994 through a constitutional amendment spearheaded by a ballot initiative. Yet critics have long opposed the system because it gives Democrats nearly the same leverage on the commission as Republicans, despite Democrats having very little control in elected offices. Instead, those critics argue the system should favor the political party in charge because it would correctly reflect the political reality in Idaho.
Idaho is one of seven states to use an independent commission to handle its redistricting process, but just one of two states that does not use an odd-number commission to help break a tie.
Other states include Arizona, California, Hawaii, Montana, New Jersey and Washington, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
A similar push to change up the commission was made during this year's legislative session that would have amended Idaho's Constitution to expand the state's redistricting commission to nine members, with the state's legislative council deciding the ninth commissioner. That effort failed to advance far inside the Legislature after concerns were raised the measure would place too much control inside the Legislature — essentially allowing state lawmakers to have the final say on drawing their own districts.
Idaho officials won't formally begin the redistricting process until after the 2020 census is finished, but GOP leaders say they need to start planning now to allow time for the issue to get on the Idaho ballot before the redistricting process begins.