Republicans, Democrats propose updated MT congressional maps before Saturday hearing

Montana State Capitol
Posted at 7:48 PM, Oct 28, 2021

HELENA — Two days ahead of a public hearing on two proposed maps for Montana’s new congressional districts, the members of the state Districting and Apportionment Commission are shaking up the situation – considering new possible district lines in an attempt to reach a compromise.

Republican Commissioners Jeff Essmann and Dan Stusek announced Thursday night that they plan to introduce an updated map at Saturday’s work session, saying it would address some of the concerns that had been raised about earlier proposals. Democratic Commissioners Joe Lamson and Kendra Miller told MTN Thursday that they have put together a new district map of their own.

Last week, the commission put two proposed maps forward for public comment, one from the Democratic members and one from the Republican members. They are currently accepting feedback online, and the public will also be able to weigh in at a hearing in Helena this Saturday.

Republicans’ proposal at that time, called CP 10 by the commission, put Glacier and Pondera Counties in the western district, with Lewis and Clark County in the eastern district. It broke up Gallatin County, with the city of Bozeman, Belgrade, Manhattan and Three Forks in the west and other parts of the county in the east.

Essmann and Stusek say their new proposal puts all of Gallatin County into the western district. It shifts Jefferson County from the western district to the eastern district, and it splits Pondera County in the middle, keeping the Blackfeet Nation whole in the west and putting Conrad in the east.

New Republican Proposal
A new proposed congressional map from Republican Commissioners Jeff Essmann and Dan Stusek, announced Thursday, Oct. 28, 2021.

Essmann said Maylinn Smith, the commission’s nonpartisan chair, reminded members that they could still offer new proposals as they attempt to reach consensus, and this map came in response to that.

The Republican commissioners said they acknowledged testimony that opposed splitting Gallatin County, and they said the western district could be competitive. Stusek said they believe Republican and Democratic U.S. House candidates each would have won the district twice in the last four elections – 2016, 2018, 2020 and the 2017 special election.

Miller said she and Lamson shared their updated proposal with the Republican members Thursday afternoon. Their previous map, called CP 11, had all of Gallatin County in the western district, along with Park and Lewis and Clark Counties. It split Flathead County, putting Whitefish and Olney in the west and the rest of the county, including Kalispell and Columbia Falls, in the east.

The Democrats’ new map keeps Flathead County whole and in the west. Like the Republican proposal, it also adds the Blackfeet Nation to the western district. It splits Gallatin County north-south, with Bozeman, Big Sky and West Yellowstone in the western district and Belgrade, Manhattan and Three Forks in the eastern district. Finally, it puts most of Lewis and Clark County into the east, but keeps the city of Helena in the west.

New Democratic Proposal
A new proposed congressional map from Democratic Commissioners Joe Lamson and Kendra Miller, announced Thursday, Oct. 28, 2021.

Miller said the map merged some of the major elements from CP 10 and CP 11. She said they had responded to testimony about the importance of keeping Flathead County whole and in the western district, and that they also felt Helena and Bozeman shared a community of interest with other cities in southwestern Montana.

The commission is set to begin their public hearing on the maps at the State Capitol at 9:30 a.m. on Saturday. After the public comment period, they will discuss the possible maps – including these new designs – and attempt to find a single proposal to move forward.

One of the major topics of discussion has been whether one of the state’s two congressional districts will be “competitive” between Democrats and Republicans. Before the announcement of the new maps Thursday, MTN looked into past election results to see how competitive each of the proposed districts in CP 10 and CP 11 might be. Because the proposed district lines don’t match exactly with current precincts, these numbers are only best estimates.

In both maps, the eastern district is much more strongly Republican than the western district. In fact, in all the races MTN analyzed, it appears Republican candidates always received more votes than their Democratic opponents in the east.

The results in the western districts are much more mixed. While CP 11’s western district was generally more favorable for Democrats than CP 10’s, both parties did have success under both maps.

On the presidential level, Donald Trump – who defeated his Democratic opponents by about 100,000 votes in 2016 and 2020 – received more votes in both maps’ western districts. He would have defeated Hillary Clinton by about 32,000 votes in CP 10 and about 22,000 in CP 11.

Two incumbent Democrats also got more votes in the west under both maps, while winning statewide. Gov. Steve Bullock defeated future Gov. Greg Gianforte by about 20,000 votes overall in 2016. In the western district, the margin would have been about 23,000 in the Republican map and 38,000 in the Democratic map.

In 2018, U.S. Sen. Jon Tester would have received about 25,000 votes more than Matt Rosendale in CP 10’s western district and about 39,000 more in CP 11’s. He won by about 18,000 votes statewide – the last time to date that a Democrat has won a statewide election.

In U.S. House races, both maps again show the same results. In 2014, Republican Ryan Zinke would have defeated Democrat John Lewis in the west by about 16,000 votes under the Republican proposal, and by about 9,000 under the Democratic proposal.

Zinke, running for reelection in 2016, received about 21,000 more votes than Democrat Denise Juneau in CP 10’s western district and about 13,000 more in CP 11’s.

In 2018, Democrat Kathleen Williams, who lost to Gianforte by 23,000 votes statewide, got about 5,500 more votes than he did in CP 10’s western district. She would have won by 18,000 votes in the west under CP 11.

Finally, in 2020, Rosendale won statewide by about 77,000 votes, defeating Williams. He would have received 18,000 more votes in the west under the Republican proposal and just 2,500 more under the Democratic map.

There are some cases where the result would be different between the two maps. In 2016, Montana had three open seats for state land board offices, all won by Republicans. Under CP 10, Republican candidates Corey Stapleton and Matt Rosendale would have received more votes than their Democratic opponents in the west, but Democrat Melissa Romano would have finished ahead of Republican Elsie Arntzen there.

Under CP 11, Stapleton and Romano would still win the western district, but Democrat Jesse Laslovich would have received more votes there than Rosendale.