A Bigger Piece of the Action

Idaho Latinos keep a close eye on redistricting


More Idaho Latinos stood up to be counted in the 2010 Census: Since 2000, the Gem State's Hispanic or Latino population grew 73 percent. Now, Hispanic leaders hope they have earned the opportunity to sit down at the proverbial political table.

Decisions made in the next 30 days by a bipartisan commission on redistricting could either grant greater representation to Idaho's fastest growing community or leave Latinos standing in the wings.

"Redistricting will definitely impact everyone here," said Alex Zamora, waving his arm across a room at the Caldwell Public Library.

Zamora, chair of the Idaho Hispanic Caucus Institute for Research and Education, stood before a room filled with students, seniors and representatives from Idaho's Mexican Consulate. Attendees had two things in common: They're Latino and they are engaged--politically, socially and now with Idaho's redistricting process.

Idaho Code 72-1506 requires the state to be divided into equal districts based on population. Even those disenfranchised by poverty and/or homelessness are to be counted and represented. In a perfect world, Idaho's official population of 1,567,582 would be evenly divided into 35 districts of 44,788 persons.

But redistricting has had a complex history. In an attempt to be fair by preserving city and county boundaries, previous commissions left many districts uneven. Two glaring examples of Idaho's lopsided legislative regions can be found in District 14 (including parts of Eagle, Meridian and Star) and District 22 (including Mountain Home). The 2010 Census indicated District 14 included 77,000 people while District 14 22 counted only 34,000.

Of greater interest to Idaho Latinos is Canyon County, currently represented by Districts 10, 11, 12 and 13. Each district readily tops the 44,788 threshold. District 13 in southern Canyon County has 58,725.

"I wouldn't be terribly surprised if Canyon County goes from four districts up to five," said Zamora.

Alfredo Hernandez of Idaho's Center for Community and Justice keeps his finger on the political pulse of Canyon County's growing Latino community.

"There is a much greater need for proper representation," said Hernandez. "With a growing population of educated Latinos, to not put them in positions of power would be to miss a great opportunity."

Maria Mabbutt, board member of the Idaho Hispanic Caucus, has a personal and political interest in the future of District 12, which includes much of the city of Nampa.

"In last year's election, I ran for the Idaho House," said Mabbutt. "When they're done with redistricting this year, the first thing I want to know is if I'll still be living in the same district. If I'm still in 12, I would say there's a 90 percent chance that I will run again."

If Mabbutt had been successful in her race against incumbent Robert Schaefer, she would have been the only Latino voice in the current Idaho Legislature.

"I came to Idaho like a lot of Mexican descendents came here, working the fields," said Mabbutt. "Immigration is important, but the biggest issue has to be public education--for my four daughters, for Latinos, for all Idahoans."

"The state Legislature should reflect the people of Idaho," said Zamora. "Yet we don't have any Latino state legislators currently serving at the Statehouse."

The new voices and faces of Idaho's Latino community include 17-year-old Eulalia Gallegos of Parma and 20-year-old Estania Mondragon of Nampa.

"I'm fascinated by this process," said Gallegos, who said that's why she volunteers for Idaho Latino Vote, a nonprofit that promotes voter registration.

"Latinos and women. We're a big part of the population here," said Mondragon, a junior at the University of Idaho. "But we're clearly under-represented. That's why I hope to run for office someday."

But before Mondragon runs for office, the process of redistricting Idaho must define the new lay of the political land.

"What's the goal? Boundaries that make sense," said Zamora.

To appreciate the Herculean task in front of the six-member redistricting commission, consider Idaho's overall growth. Between 2000 and 2010, Idaho grew by 273,629 people.

"It's the equivalent of adding another Boise and Pocatello to our state," said Lee Flinn, executive director of Conservation Voters for Idaho. "People are dazed when they hear the numbers. But what's really at the heart of redistricting is maintaining and upholding the value of one person-one vote."

Flinn and Zamora said redistricting is not a Republican vs. Democrat issue.

"We're not talking to people about voting one party or another," said Zamora. "We're talking about voting period. In the Latino community, we're still taking basic steps of getting mobilized and politically active."

Following a final public hearing scheduled for Wednesday, July 13, at Meridian City Hall, the redistricting commission will get to the work of slicing up Idaho. The six commissioners have eight days of meetings scheduled through the remainder of July. In case they need more time, the commission penciled in 14 more dates between Monday, Aug. 1, and Friday, Sept. 2. If commissioners still can't reach a consensus, the ultimate arbiter would be the Idaho Supreme Court. But one way or another, Idaho's new districts need to be set by next spring's primary elections, which will affect state legislative races and runoffs for Idaho's two U.S. House seats.

"Redistricting is critically important," said Flinn. "Because it will determine who is elected, and those are the people who will make the policy decisions that impact Idahoans every day. Not just Latinos, all Idahoans."