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Special masters praise new redistricting process

by Geoff Dornan
R-C Capital Bureau

For Bob Erickson and Alan Glover, drawing the congressional and legislative district maps for the coming decade was one of the high points of their political careers.

Both men said it was a much cleaner, better process than the redistricting they have been through in the Nevada Legislature. Glover is a former assemblyman and state senator as well as Carson City’s veteran clerk-recorder. Erickson had some 30 years with the Legislative Counsel Bureau’s Research Division.

“Our experience helped,” said Erickson, whose first time through the process was in 1981, when then-Research Director Andy Gross “had this big table and there were maps all over,” with a steady stream of lawmakers coming through to say where they wanted their district lines drawn.

“I chaired Elections (Committee) that year,” said Glover. “It was awful.”

By comparison, this process was simple, said Glover, who has the experience and street smarts to help them avoid a political misstep.

“The judge laid it out in the order,” he said. “It was paint by the numbers.”

Erickson agreed, saying his major was geography “and I feel really comfortable with maps.”

Glover and Erickson are two of the three special masters appointed by Carson District Judge Todd Russell to oversee the redrawing of district lines.

The third master, Las Vegas lawyer Tom Sheets, ran the public hearings that prepared them for the actual redistricting and wrote the legal language necessary to complete the job.

Both said one of the best things about doing the job was that, after Russell’s order, they didn’t have to take politics into consideration.

For example, Glover said they didn’t have to consider potential future candidates in drawing the maps.

“We didn’t even think about that,” he said. “The parties – they have to.”

Erickson said politics simply wasn’t part of their thought process.

Russell instructed the masters to avoid irregularly shaped districts and to draw them as compactly and regularly shaped as possible. He said they should avoid dividing groups with common social, economic, cultural and language characteristics. He said they should avoid, if possible, dividing counties or cities. He ordered them to, as much as possible, avoid pitting incumbents against each other. He suggested “nesting” two Assembly districts in each Senate district if possible. And he ordered the four congressional districts to be equal in population and the legislative districts not to be more than 2 percent different in population, with a goal of just a half-percent variance.

Erickson said those and Russell’s other mandates greatly simplified their process.

They achieved those goals so well that only two incumbent Assembly members – Democrat Steven Brooks and Republican Crescent Hardy – will have to face each other in next year’s elections.

“It was an incredible team,” said Lorne Malkiewich, director of the state Legislative Counsel Bureau, who provided Brian Davie of the Research Division and Kathy Steinle of IT to handle the computer program that actually draws the maps. “A good mix of experience and skills.”

Malkiewich pointed out that the final maps were so good, they didn’t even draw an appeal from any of the parties to the case.

So how did they do it?

“We started with Congress,” said Erickson. He said they drew the maps without the “doughnut hole” of two heavily Democratic districts in Las Vegas surrounded by two much larger districts to cover the rest of the state, seen in the Democrat and GOP maps during the legislative session.

Then came the Senate, followed by cutting each of those 21 districts in half to create the Assembly maps. Erickson said they were able to avoid incumbent-against-incumbent in every case except one, in part because a number of Assembly members are planning to run for a Senate seat.

Also, some members of both state houses are running for Congress, leaving a significant number of seats open including those of Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford and Assembly Speaker John Oceguera.

Each Senate district now consists of two Assembly districts.

“This is going to make ballot preparation much easier,” said Glover.

Erickson said only three of Nevada’s small counties are divided for state Senate – Lyon, Lincoln and Nye.

One of the few complaints they received was from Eureka Assemblyman Pete Goicoechea, who said he fears that the rural Senate district that reaches into Clark County could result in a victory for a Las Vegas candidate who doesn’t understand the cow counties. Erickson said it was unavoidable mathematically: “One of those Senate districts had to have 20,000 people in Clark County.”

But Glover said they made the effort to ensure that the more rural parts of Clark were added to that district.

“They have more in common with the rurals than Winchester and the Strip,” he said.

There was also concern that Ira Hansen’s Assembly district, which reaches from Sparks to Humboldt County, would never have a rural representative. But Erickson aid there are actually more rural residents in that district than urban ones.

He also pointed out that this is the first time in decades that neither Carson City nor Douglas County is split up. Under the old maps, three assemblymen and two senators each had a piece of Carson City.

Throughout the process, both men said, no one tried to interfere or influence them.

“I really thought we would get the calls,” said Glover. “But Todd made it clear: No ex parte communication.”

They said the process laid out in Russell’s order worked so well that they’d recommend it to other states where lawmakers couldn’t get it done – even a state as large as Texas, which is having so much trouble that it’s pushed back its primary from March to April.

Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval, who vetoed the two Democrat-prepared redistricting bills sent to his desk, also praised the maps and the process.

Before Russell put the new system in place, Sandoval said, “The maps I got were hyperpartisan.”

Although the governor had been concerned that the issue ended up in court, he said it ultimately produced a good result.

“I applaud and compliment them on the job they did,” he said.

“They were deliberate, thoughtful and balanced. We can see what a great job they did handling the case.”

“This was such a nice way to end my professional career,” Erickson said.

“This is the best team I ever served on,” said Glover.