Second Republican Map Proposal: CP 12

The second proposal from Republican commissioners — CP 12 — would keep Gallatin whole, while cutting through Pondera County. This proposal would put Bozeman, Missoula and Kalispell in a western district, and place Helena in an eastern district. 

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A final congressional map that will shape Montana’s representation in Washington, D.C., for the next decade was chosen by the state’s independent redistricting commission Friday.

Congressional Proposal 12, the map that was tentatively chosen as the finalist last week, is headed to the Montana Secretary of State’s office over the weekend after a 3-2 vote by the Montana Districting and Apportionment Commission pushed the unchanged plan forward.

Nonpartisan commission Chair Maylinn Smith again provided the tie-breaking vote, siding with Republican commissioners Jeff Essmann and Dan Stusek on advancing CP 12.

The final map places Missoula, Gallatin and Flathead counties in a western district, known as Congressional District 1, and puts Lewis and Clark, Yellowstone and Park counties in an eastern district, known as Congressional District 2.

The commission’s meeting was the final in a months-long process filled with back and forth debate between Democratic and Republican commissioners on how to divide the state into the two newly apportioned congressional districts.

Chair Maylinn Smith’s tie-breaking vote last week sent CP 12 on to a final round of tweaking and refinement on Tuesday. An amendment was made to the original proposal at that meeting, which slightly shifted the line that had cut Pondera County almost in half.

That adjustment placed Valler, Birch Creek Colony and Dupuyer in an eastern district rather than in the west as the original version had proposed. The line also muddied the population distribution between the two districts, moving just over 3,000 people from the western district to the east, compared to the original’s population deviation of one person.

Keeping population as equal as possible was a major component of the commission’s mandatory criteria, which provided an outline for milestones that congressional map proposals must hit.

Public comment from the meeting on Friday ultimately swayed the final decision away from the amended map.

Pondera County Commissioner Dale Seifert, who provided public comment by Zoom, said that the amendment to the line would cut through two voting precincts and would create a hassle for the voters and election workers in the county of almost 6,000 people.

“Three thousand might not seem like a lot for the state, but in the county it makes a huge difference as far as the people we have representing us,” Seifert said.

In a 3-2 vote to decide the fate of the amendment, Republican Commissioner Dan Stusek said that while the change to the line was clean, the goal was to keep the population as equal as possible. The original version of CP 12 did that, he said.

Even the labeling of the districts came under question, when Republican Commissioner Jeff Essman motioned for a vote on naming the eastern district as the first district, and the western district as the second.

Democratic commissioners Kendra Miller and Joe Lamson were perplexed by the move. Lamson said that the western district has always been the first district, and questioned why that should change with the new map.

“Calling one the first district does not make one the first district,” Lamson said. “The western district has always been the first district, and I am confident that it will remain that whichever label you happen to do.”

Smith again broke a tie, siding with the Democratic commissioners in keeping the names of the districts the same as was originally labelled on CP 12.

Though the final map provides near equal population distribution, it does create two Republican-leaning districts. Political polling analysis website FiveThirtyEight indicated that the final map creates an eastern district that is favorable to Republicans, while the western district is slightly more competitive.

That rating is based on data collected at the national level from the previous two presidential races, which creates a baseline of sorts to determine the political leanings of congressional districts throughout the country.

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Alex Miller is the county and state government reporter and can be reached at amiller@dailychronicle.com or by phone at 406-582-2648.

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