In one final edit to the single line dividing Montana’s two congressional districts, Republicans and the chairwoman of the state’s districting commission undid a late change by Democrats before finalizing the map on Friday.
On a 3-2 vote, the commission reset the state’s congressional map to the version first proposed by Republicans three weeks ago. Democrats had previously succeeded in modifying the map so that in Pondera County the Western district stopped at the edge of the Blackfeet Indian Reservation.
But that decision to use the reservation boundary raised issues when U.S. Census data indicated that Montana’s two districts were suddenly off more than 3,000 people with the East having the larger population.
That’s impossible, explained Kendra Miller, a Democrat on the Districting and Apportionment Commission who proposed using the Blackfeet Reservation boundary instead of cutting through off-reservation Pondera County precincts.
“It’s just the Bob Marshall Wilderness,” Miller said, explaining the unlikelihood that anyone, let alone 3,000 people, lived in the affected area.
Republican commissioners and Chairwoman Maylinn Smith chose to go with the original Congressional Proposal 12 map, which showed the West only being one person smaller in population than the East. They then voted to send the map to Secretary of State Christi Jacobsen, completing the process.
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There was one final debate. Republican Jeff Essmann, of Billings, proposed giving the designation District 1 to the East, explaining that he was doing so for personal preference. Democrats called the request absurd, given that Americans read left to right. They accused Essmann of trying to give current at-large Rep. Matt Rosendale the distinction of representing the No. 1 district. Rosendale, a Republican, is running in the East.
“I have not spoken with Congressman Rosendale at all, or even once throughout this entire redistricting process. It's simply I reside in the East and I think in just simply fairness it would be nice for the Eastern District to be labeled No. 1 at this point. So how's that for a reason,” Essmann said.
Democrat Commissioner Joe Lamson wasn’t buying it.
“Calling one the first district does not make it the first district. The Western district has always been the first district and I am confident that it will remain that, whichever label you happen to give some weird perceived advantage to one of the worst congressmen this state has ever seen,” Lamson said.
Smith then sided with Democrats and established the West as District 1.