Reapportionment means more federal representation | NevadaAppeal.com

Reapportionment means more federal representation

by staff

The 2000 Census will give all Nevadans more say in Congress but concentrate even more legislative power in Clark County.

Those census numbers, which lawmakers hope to get in February, must be applied to representative government at every level according to the one-man-one-vote rule of the 14th Amendment. And it is the Nevada Legislature that draws those districts for not only its own districts but for the Regents, Board of Education and the state’s seats in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Counties and cities draw districts for their own commission and council seats.

When the 2000 Census numbers are in, everyone expects Nevada, the nation’s fastest growing state, will get a third seat in the House of Representatives at the same time it gives Clark County a veto-proof two-thirds majority of the state Legislature.

It took Nevada from statehood in 1864 until the 1980 Census to qualify for a second seat in the House. But according to Bob Erickson, head of the Legislative Counsel Bureau Research Division, Nevada should already have the population needed to qualify for that third congressional seat. Representation there is determined by dividing the U.S. population by 435 – an estimated 275 million by next April. That equates to one representative for every 632,000 people.

Nevada already has more than the 1.9 million residents needed to qualify for a third seat.

While exact population figures won’t aren’t available until the census count next April, about 1.3 million live in Clark County. That means Rep. Jim Gibbons’s seat will probably look very much the same after reapportionment – all of Nevada outside of Clark County. The other two members of Congress will probably be elected in the Las Vegas area.

The other way to divide up the districts would split the north and rural areas between seats that all reach into the Las Vegas area, which could give Las Vegas voters control of all three seats.

Most of the work will involve redrawing lines for legislative districts. Most agree the big fights may center on how to draw lines within the Las Vegas area where huge growth has expanded the perimeter of the metropolitan area, sometimes quadrupling the population of outlying districts while older districts landlocked within the city little if at all.

As a result, Dennis Nolan’s District 13 has nearly 55,000 registered voters while Vonne Chowning’s District 28 remains less than 5,900.

Those disparities, clear violations of the one-man-one-vote rule, abound in the Las Vegas area. Altogether, there are four Assembly districts with fewer than 12,000 voters and five with more than 40,000.

In the Senate, Joe Neal’s North Las Vegas District 4 has just 26,365 voters while Jon Porter’s District 1 has 84,618 registered as of November and Ray Rawson in District 6 represents 74,823 voters.

There are similar problems, although not as extreme, in Reno area legislative seats as well, all of which must be equalized by the 2001 Legislature.

Erickson said the other key issue lawmakers must resolve in 2001 is how to handle the dwindling percentage of rural Nevadans. At present, there are two rural Senators, Dean Rhoads and Mike McGinness, and four Assembly members, John Marvel, John Carpenter, Marcia deBraga and Roy Neighbors.

They represent more nearly 75 percent of the land area and a dozen of the state’s 17 counties.

McGinness’s district, according to Erickson, contains more square miles than any other state legislative district in the nation outside of Alaska. It stretches from Fallon to Ely and south to Clark County covering all of six counties and pieces of two more. He said Rhoads’s district – from Washoe County to the Utah border across northern Nevada, may be second largest in the continental U.S.

The choice facing lawmakers, he said, is whether to make those districts even larger, cutting rural representation to three Assembly members and “one and a half Senators,” or to expand the size of the Legislature.

“If they went to 75, they could keep existing rural seats,” he said. There are now 63 members, 21 Senators and 42 in the Assembly.

All four new Senate seats and eight new Assembly seats would go to Clark County but rural Nevada would keep its representatives.

And if they don’t expand, Erickson said each Senator in Nevada’s legislature will represent more than 96,000 people.

“Right now we have the third smallest Legislature in the nation,” he said. “If we go to 75, we would be fourth smallest behind Alaska, Delaware and Nebraska.”

Erickson made it clear staff will take no position on any of the issues in what is always a highly political fight but simply provide data and the options. He said compounding the political battles is the fact that lawmakers may not actually receive the Census numbers they must use to draw new districts until March. Now that the Nevada constitution mandates an end to the legislature the last day of May, that would leave precious little time to do the job.