An active PCP reflects on what redistricting means for his North Portland neighborhood, and what he’s doing now to prepare for the 2022 elections

As a result of the state’s growth in population over the past decade, Oregon recently earned a new Congressional seat. House Speaker Tina Kotek created a special committee to draw congressional district lines, and Governor Brown signed the measure hours after it passed the legislature. The new lines divide Portland into three districts, and the changes will affect several statewide races next year. As Republicans continue to challenge the new lines, we asked activist and HD 44 Precinct Committee Person Tom Karwaki of North Portland to tell us how he expects things to go in the coming weeks and months. He talks about the work he’s doing to insure that Democrats are elected in 2022.

An interview with Tom Karwaki, PCP in HD 44

1. How do you expect the new district lines to affect your House District (both statewide and Congressional)?

The new lines tear out half the heart and the icon of the North Portland Peninsula in HD 44 and joins it to NW Portland where the only significant community of interest is the St Johns bridge itself. However, other than that loss of Cathedral Park and some of St Johns, HD44 is pretty much the same just more compact. State Senator Frederick was opposed to losing Cathedral Park but not moving; it would have meant major shifts elsewhere. The BIGGEST news is that Senator Frederick and Senator Mike Dembrow both live in the new district. Both get to be Senators through 2024! Earl [Blumenauer] is still our favorite Congressional cyclist and transit rider.

2. How can Multnomah County Democrats get involved in the upcoming 2022 midterm elections?

The 2022 Election Season is upon us. Tell your friends to check their voter registration to make sure their party is DEMOCRATIC. Voter registration efforts are beginning this month with PCPs and Neighborhood Leaders. Our big push is to contact Non-Affiliated Voters (NAVs), and let them know how to become Democrats! Faith [Ruffing] is heading up the Platform Convention this fall, and everyone is invited!

3. How are you personally going to stay active in the coming year, as a PCP and Democrat? 

My 2022 resolution is to personally knock on at least 500 doors before the May primary (Speaker Kotek is running for Governor!). To recruit 10 new Neighborhood Leaders to reach 50 doors each and help others reach 50 doors each. The May Primary will be the big event and everyone is welcome to march in the St. Johns Parade on May 7th and help register folks and hand out literature at the St Johns Bazaar.

For information about the new district lines, visit https://www.oregonlegislature.gov/redistricting.

What’s What in Our Government: Let’s Get Smarter about … Redistricting

by Dannelle D. Stevens

What is redistricting? Redistricting is the drawing of the boundaries of voting districts. A voting district is a geographical area that the government uses to create groups who vote for a representative in a legislative body like the Oregon State Senate, House, or US House of Representatives.  Only voters within that district can cast ballots for candidates who represent them in that district. KGW has a very short background video on redistricting in Oregon.

“Redistricting is immensely important to collective political power. It impacts who our communities have the power to elect, and thus their ability to shape local, state, and federal policies that affect their lives.  The redistricting process presents a vital opportunity to advocate for voting districts boundaries that are truly representative of our communities” (Summer 2021, NorCalACLU News).

All voting districts must be created in line with constitutional law that districts must be approximately equal in population.  For example, in the Oregon state legislature we have 30 Senators with staggered elections every four years and 60 Representatives elected every two years. Thus, we have 30 Senatorial districts and 60 Representative districts. In the US Congress, we have a House of Representatives with 435 elected representatives from the same number of voting districts. (The two US Senators per state are not included in this because they represent their states, not the population.) It stands to reason that the districts should be equal in size, otherwise there might be one representative for 20,000 people and another for 2,000,000 people in different districts.  That would not be fair for the 2 million, to be sure.   

Another key principle of these voting districts is that within each level the districts should not only be the same size but represent the district constituents (voters). The Ballotpedia link  expands on the idea of additional criteria for determining the voting district lines and describes the additional criteria for redistricting in Oregon. 

Why do we need redistricting? When many new people move into a voting district and make the formerly equal population districts now unequal, “redistricting” is needed.  At the federal and at the state level, redistricting occurs every 10 years and follows the population figures from the US Census. This year the Census Bureau will issue its guidelines for the size of each district for US Congressional representation on August 16. 

Because Oregon has had a substantial increase in population since the last census in 2010, the US Census Bureau has determined that Oregon will get one more representative in the US House of Representatives. We currently have five and will now have six.  The last time this happened was 40 years ago.  In addition, based on the 2020 census, Like Oregon these states also gain seats, +1 seat each: Colorado, Florida, Montana, North Carolina: +2, Texas. These states lose seats, -1: California, Illinois, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, West Virginia.The Cook Political Report has a great webpage of the redistricting process across all the states, here

Who makes decisions on redistricting in a state? Redistricting is done at the state level by an independent commission, the state legislature, or a hybrid of the two. Oregon’s redistricting starts with a committee from the Senate and the House legislature. Based on the Oregon Constitution there is a deadline for completion of the districts after the state receives the census data on August 16.  These deadlines vary from state to state because they are sensitive to whenever the state starts having its primaries and elections. This year in Oregon redistricting is in the hands of the legislature and a balanced committee of Democrats and Republicans. If the committee cannot agree, the responsibility for redistricting for the state legislature is handed over to the Oregon Secretary of State on September 27. There does not seem to be a similar backup plan for the US Congressional maps. District lines are subject to veto by the Governor, however. If you look at the Oregon State Legislature redistricting website you will also see a calendar for hearings in the middle of September about the districts proposed by the legislature. Also, look at Ballotpedia link for the specifics of redistricting in Oregon. It is a very thorough resource.

What are the issues and challenges with redistricting? The biggest problem with redistricting is gerrymandering, the practice of drawing districts to favor one political party or racial group, skews election results, makes races less competitive, hurts communities of color, and thwarts the will of the voters. It leads many Americans to feel their voices don’t matter.

More resources:

Ballotpedia: Encyclopedia of American Politics.  The section entitled “State-based Requirements” partway down addresses, along with population, other metrics to use to decide how to create these districts.  https://ballotpedia.org/Redistricting

Dannelle D. Stevens is Precinct Committee Person (PCP) and Neighborhood Leader in District 41 (Inner SE Portland). Her interest in civic awareness started as a high school social studies teacher and led her to being a (now retired) teacher educator from Portland State University.

Congressional district map photo credit: US Dept. of the Interior

Lew Frederick

Member Spotlight: Senator Lew Frederick

Why did you become involved in the Democratic Party of Multnomah County?
It was a place where I could try to make things better for all the people.

Why do you think it’s important for Democrats to become involved at the local level?
Because that’s where they live. The affinity for community is important in terms of persuading others to support Democratic principles.

What are some of the priorities for our state and for Multnomah County this year?
Police accountability, housing, health care, education, environment, economic security.

What is making you hopeful right now?
The recognition by more and more people that they cannot let someone else make decisions for them — that they have to be involved.


A brief history of the racial culture in Oregon and why Juneteenth matters


Oregon Senator Lew Frederick with the author’s children.

Today, Oregon is known as one of the most broad-minded states in the country. It has consistently for years been placed in polls as one of the top 10 most liberal states to live in.  Portland, the state’s largest city, has hosted the most continuous Black Lives Matter protest in the nation. It is also credited as one of the driving forces against the Trump Administration’s attempts to use the Nixonian campaign strategy of “law and order” to win a second term. Just recently on June 1st, 2021 the Oregon State Senate passed House Bill 2168 establishing a cultural and historical significant date as an official Oregon State holiday known as Juneteenth. Senator Lew Fredericks stated “HB 2168 designates June 19th as an Oregon State holiday, commemorating the arrival on horseback of the news of the Emancipation Proclamation in Galveston Texas, in 1865 to the cheers of African Americans then Enslaved.”

As forward thinking as Oregon is, and as supportive as Oregon appears to be of its African American residents, the 86% white state has a history of racial subjugation and prejudicial societal ideals. Even before Oregon became a state it was being purposely designed as a Caucasian-only haven. In the 1840’s the provisional government enacted laws against slavery while at the same time forbidding people of African descent the legality of settling in the area. With such laws as the 1843 Oregon Lash law stating that any free black person over the age of 18 “caught” living in Oregon was to be whipped every six months by the county constable until the person left the territory; literally criminalizing the presence of black people in the region. In 1859 Oregon was the first and the only state to be admitted into the Union with Racial Exclusion Laws in its Constitution. The laws remained until 1926, with original racist language finally being changed in 2002. In the 1920’s, one in twenty Oregonians was a card carrying member of the Ku Klux Klan, the highest percentage of any state west of the Mississippi.

Oregon has been slow to confront its bigoted history, taking 89 years (in 1959) to affirm the 15th amendment giving Black citizens the right to vote (which was ratified by the rest of country on February 3rd , 1870) and 162 years to eradicate the racist language in its constitution. Oregon also took another More baffling still, is the fact that Oregon didn’t fully ratify the 14th amendment granting citizenship and equal protection to African Americans until 1973!

It is important for societies to remember their histories, especially when it comes from such places as Oregon’s racially iniquitous past. As the saying goes, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” We can use it as a barometer to measure where we are and what direction we as a state should be headed. State Senator Lew Frederick (D-Portland) said it best “This new holiday recognizes that the people of the state of Oregon, despite our past, can take the veil of ignorance away and each year celebrate hope on Juneteenth.”  That being said, Juneteenth’s recognition as an official state holiday starting June 19th, 2022 does not erase the past, but shows us as citizens of Oregon that however slow; progress is being made.

Please see more about Juneteenth, in this 2020 article by Dr. Rosa Colquitt, HERE.

(Damien Grace is the pen name of David Burnell, Multnomah County Democrats activist and PCP in HD 43.)