The shape of the 2022 election could take a step forward Sept. 20 with a special session of the Legislature called by Gov. Kate Brown.
While Brown can call a special session, she can determine neither its length or scope. But in making the announcement, Brown said she hoped it would be short and stick to approved new district maps to be used for legislative and congressional seats in time for the 2022 election.
What exactly the legislature would consider was unclear on Monday as the Senate and House redistricting committees finished the final set of hearings on different maps submitted by both parties in both chambers.
The special session and the future political maps are required following the 2020 U.S. Census to redistribute population among the political districts. The maps would be used for the next decade, starting with the 2022 primary election.
The special sessions topped recent political news that also included developments in the race for governor and moves to appoint a new U.S. attorney for Oregon
Special session called for next week
Brown called the special session Friday.
“This special session is an opportunity for legislators to set aside their differences and ensure Oregon voters have their voices heard at the ballot box,” Brown said in making her announcement.
Though the time and place for a vote on redistricting is now set, exactly what lawmakers might be voting on was still up in the air with a week to go until the session convenes.
The House and Senate redistricting committees held three hearings on Monday, the last of a series of legally required hearings for testimony from the pubic on how 30 Senate, 60 House and six congressional districts should be designed.
Democrats had submitted two different plans from the House and Senate. Republicans submitted one for each of the two legislative chambers. Each party also released a plan for the congressional districts, which include a new district granted Oregon because of its population growth.
How the process would get from the eight different maps debated over the past week to a plan that would be voted on by the Legislature next week was unclear on Monday. House and Senate leaders did not respond to requests over two days for details on what the next steps would be for the maps.
Calling the Sept. 20 session would put the legislature in the position to possibly meet the Sept. 27 deadline set by the Oregon Supreme Court for the House and Senate to vote on a plan, get Brown's approval, and deliver the finished maps to the court by Sept. 27.
Brown's office released a statement Monday underlining that it did know what the outcome of the debates would be.
"Based on our office’s conversations with legislative leadership, the work that went into creating the initial maps, and the important public testimony that is underway to include feedback on the maps from hundreds of Oregonians, we believe it’s time for the Legislature to take the next step in the redistricting process by convening in special session to deliberate over the plans that have been developed," said Brown spokesman Charles Boyle.
Secretary of State, judges panel await
If the Legislature does not finish a plan that it can submit to the court by Sept. 27, the redistricting process would move the next day — Sept. 28 — in two different directions. The Oregon Supreme Court in a ruling last spring said Secretary of State Shemia Fagan would take over the legislative redistricting process. Fagan would be required to submit her plan to the Oregon Supreme Court by Oct. 18. Congressional redistricting would be done by a five-judge panel created by the Oregon Supreme Court.
If the Legislature submits its plan, the Oregon Supreme Court has set a Feb. 1 date for all legal challenges and implementation to be resolved. If the plan is done by the secretary of state and the judicial panel, the deadline would be Feb. 8.
The period to file for state and local offices on the primary ballot for the May 20 election opened on Sept. 9. But filing for the legislative and congressional seats is on hold until maps can be approved. Candidates can in the meantime create political action committees to raise funds for the races. Legislative committees are created with the secretary of state, Congressional committees with the Federal Election Commission.
The last day for candidates to file for office is March 8, 2022.
Capitol open for session despite COVID-19 concerns
As things stood on Monday afternoon, a special session on Sept. 20 would be held in the Capitol in Salem, as have three previous special sessions and the entire 2021 regular session of the legislature.
One major difference: Barring action over the next week by legislative leaders, the session would be open to the public. The Capitol, which is controlled by the legislature and its officers, was closed to the public in March 2020 due to concerns over spreading COVID-19 infections. Legislative hearings were held remotely, but lawmakers came to the Capitol for the final votes on legislation. Masks were mandatory during most sessions and social distancing efforts included staggered time on the floor for the 60-memeber House. Activity was halted at least four times by reports of infection among lawmakers and staff. The Capitol reopened in July, when infections were ebbing, but before the recent rise in cases due to the delta variant.
The zip code that includes the capitol has frequently had the highest rate of infections per capita in the state during the pandemic, according to statistics from the Oregon Health Authority.
In its most recent data released Monday, OHA said that over the three-day period from Friday to Sunday, 457 new COVID-19 cases emerged in Marion County, which includes Salem. That is the third highest number in the state over the period, surpassed only by Multnomah County (626 cases) and Washington County (493 cases).
New U.S. attorney for Oregon will be nominated
Eight months after President Joe Biden was sworn into office, the Department of Justice is officially considering a nominee for the job of U.S. Attorney for Oregon.
U.S. Attorney Billy J. Williams, appointed in 2017 by then-President Donald Trump, resigned Feb. 28 at Biden's request. Williams' tenure was marked by clashes with Portland and Bend officials over operations by federal officers in the cities. Acting U.S. Attorney Scott Asphaug has been in charge of the office over the past six months.
Officially, candidates who want to be considered for the position can submit applications to a selection committee created by Oregon senators Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley.
Among those under consideration are Deschutes County district attorney John Hummel, who has expressed interest in the position.
The Oregonian last week said others brought to the attention of the two senators include former acting U.S. Attorney for Oregon Dwight Holton, the Portland office's civil division chief Renata Gowie, Assistant U.S. Attorney Ethan Knight, former federal prosecutor Donna Maddux, and Oregon Clemency Project co-founder Vivek Kothari, a former federal prosecutor in Atlanta.
Applicants should contact Elise Gaffney in Wyden's office at firstname.lastname@example.org by Sept. 30.
Starnes switches parties in new bid for governor
Patrick Starnes, the 2018 Independent Party candidate for governor, said Monday that he will run for the office again in 2022. Only this time, he's seeking the state's top job as a Democrat.
"I can confirm I am 100% in," Starnes said Monday.
Starnes won the Independent Party primary in 2018. But amid late polls showing the Republican nominee, former Rep. Knute Buehler, R-Bend, closing the gap with Gov. Kate Brown, Starnes announced that his supporters should vote for Brown. Starnes has since re-filed as a Democrat and is running for the open seat in 2022. Brown is barred from seeking office under term limits.
Starnes has opened a campaign finance committee with the Oregon Secretary of State and is in the process of making an official filing of candidacy.
He said he plans to continue his advocacy for campaign finance reform, which was a centerpiece of his 2018 campaign. While state voters approved a ballot measure to change the constitution to specifically allow for campaign finance limits, efforts to set specific numbers stalled during the 2021 regular session of the legislature.