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Oregon could gain a Congressional seat

Washington has a (long)shot at another seat too

Senate approval today of voting rights in the House of Representatives for the District of Columbia and an increase in House seats from 435 to 437 could mean an additional Congressional seat for Oregon after the 2010 census, with Washington a long-shot chance to also add a seat.

Approval of the measure is expected in the House, and a signature is expected from President Barack Obama, but the final fate of the law may be settled in the courts. Opponents, primarily Republicans, charge that a seat for the District of Columbia is unconstitutional. The measure allocates one seat to the District and one additional seat to Utah, which was next in line for an additional seat after the 2000 census.

Removal of Utah from the redistricting sweepstakes should put Oregon in the top ranks for the now-437-member House. Oregon has been on the cusp of a sixth Congressional seat since the latest analysis by Election Data Services (EDS), the recognized authority in the field. EDS viewed population changes under a variety of models, and projected that as many as 18 states could see a gain or loss in the House of Representatives.

Texas, Arizona, Florida, South Carolina, North Carolina, Missouri, Utah and Oregon are in the best position to gain seats; potential "losers" in these models would be Illinois, Minnesota, Missouri, New York, Iowa, Louisiana, Massachusetts and Pennsylvania. Removing Utah from the mix with the law now moving through Congress improves the odds of others on the "potential gain" list.

Prospects for Oregon depend upon the state gaining or holding population in the next two years; growth in both Oregon and Washington was stronger than in most states in 2008. Washington would gain a tenth Congressional seat only under an aggressive-growth scenario, but it is given a long-shot chance by EDS.

Data compiled by EDS predates the economic collapse, which could affect the mobility of millions of Americans — or not. Only 13 percent of Americans changed residences between 2006 and 2007, the Pew Research Center reported in December, the slowest mobility-rate since tracking began in 1940. But financial collapse has been more pronounced in some regions, such as the industrial Midwest, than it has on the Pacific Coast, which could bring more migration to this region.

Redistricting is an intensely political issue, beginning with the law now moving through Congress. Democrats have traditionally supported District of Columbia voting rights; the district is overwhelmingly Democratic. Republicans equalized the D.C. seat with addition of a seat for Utah, one of the nation's reddest states. That equalization will become moot after 2010, however, as the District holds a permanent seat and the other 436 are up for grabs.

In most states, including Oregon, redistricting falls to the Legislature. Oregon's recent history has been a Democratic legislature. A sixth Oregon seat would take into consideration growth of the Portland suburban ring, from Hillsboro to the west through Lake Oswego and Wilsonville to the south and Gresham to the east. These areas are very competitive politically. The state delegation now includes one Republican and four Democrats.

Floyd J. McKay, professor of journalism emeritus at Western Washington University, was a print and broadcast journalist in Oregon for three decades. Recipient of a DuPont-Columbia Broadcast Award for documentaries, and a Nieman Fellowship at Harvard, he is also a historian and holds a Ph.D. from the University of Washington. He resides in Bellingham and can be reached at floydmckay@comcast.net.


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