By Sarah Pridgeon
Discussions regarding plans to redraw Wyoming’s legislative districts to address population shifts have revealed state-wide dissent over how counties should be split. Two statewide plans have been submitted, along with nine local plans for specific regions or counties, and the outcome forCrookCountywill differ greatly depending on which of them is accepted.
At a meeting of the Joint Corporations, Elections and Political Subdivisions Committee in Douglas last Monday, September 12, officials and residents from the east of the state voiced concerns that, of the two statewide plans, the one submitted by Senator Hines of Campbell County would combine rural, poorer counties with their more heavily populated, richer neighbors. “You move us into these bigger counties and I guarantee we will get eaten alive,” said Senator Driskill at the meeting.
The statewide plan submitted by State Representative Hans Hunt ofNewcastle, on the other hand, leaves Crook, Weston andNiobraraCountiesintact, adding a small number of people fromCampbellCountyin order to meet the required population number. Each legislative district must have a population figure within ten percent of the ideal: 18,788 people per Senate district and 9,394 per House district.
Senator Driskill is concerned that Hines’ plan would lumpCrookCountyin withCampbellCountyand splitWestonCountyinto pieces. On the other hand, keeping Crook, Weston andNiobraracounties together, as would happen if Hunt’s plan is accepted, would preserve the historical connection between the three and the community of interest therein.
Crook, Weston andNiobraraCountiesare three of the six poorest counties inWyomingand three of the four most rural. Although the area is large geographically, says Driskill, it contains people with very similar viewpoints, which makes it easy to represent.
This would not be the case shouldCrookCountybe combined withCampbellCounty, he goes on. Gillette is a wealthy place in which a one percent sales tax allows immense public projects to be built with minimal impact – financial discussions between the two, he says, would be “like a billionaire talking to a homeless person.”
Driskill is concerned that, shouldCrookCountybe swallowed byCampbellCounty, its residents will lose their voice and become disenfranchised. He believes Hunt’s alternative is a “common sense plan” that works well, but is taking a battering as each local plan is presented to the committee, particularly as two counties – Laramie and Natrona – hold 30 percent of the vote and have their own regional plans.
According to Driskill, who is currently drafting a plan for northeastern Wyoming that will follow the Hunt plan, redistricting is “probably the most important thing that will happen to Crook County in politics in the next ten years” and will dictate how residents are represented, and by whom. In his opinion, if just 50 people from each of the three counties register their opinions, by commenting on the website or emailing the legislators, it would have a “profound impact” on the decisions that are eventually.
The Joint Corporations, Elections and Political Subdivisions Committee have held a total of 13 meetings on redistricting and will meet again shortly to vote on a plan to submit to the full Legislature. There is an unofficial deadline of November to submit a redistricting map to the full Legislature, which will vote on the final plan during next year’s budget session.
To read more about redistricting, or to register a comment or find the email addresses of the legislators, visit the website of the Wyoming Legislature at http://legisweb.state.wy.us/lsoweb/Redistricting/LegilativeRedistricting.aspx