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Legislators: Meeteetse cannot stay with Park County voting block

By CJ BAKER

Tribune Staff Writer

When it comes time to pick their next state represenative or senator, Meeteetse area residents likely will no longer be able to vote with the rest of western Park County.

But unlike a previous proposal that would have split the community, a new plan will keep the Meeteetse area in the same legislative voting districts.

Big Horn Basin legislators will present their new redistricting plan to area residents at a meeting tonight (Thursday) in the Meeteetse Senior Citizens Center.

State Sen. Hank Coe, R-Cody, Rep. Sam Krone, R-Cody, Rep. Pat Childers, R-Cody, and Rep. Elaine Harvey, R-Lovell, will present and answer questions on their revised proposal to redraw the Big Horn Basin’s legislative districts. The meeting, which begins at 6 p.m., is being hosted by the Park County Republican Women.

When Big Horn Basin legislators presented their original plan to Meeteetse residents in early November, the 20 citizens at the meeting overwhelmingly expressed opposition. Residents objected because the plan would split the community between two legislative districts and that most of the community would be moving to a district that is typically represented by a Thermopolis resident.

The nine legislators from the Basin re-examined their plan but came to a similar conclusion: there’s just no way to keep the Meeteetse area’s voters in Park County districts while meeting the legislators’ top priority of keeping six House and three Senate seats in the Big Horn Basin.

The boundaries of the legislative districts must be redrawn every 10 years based on U.S. Census data, and the 2010 data showed the Big Horn Basin overall did not grow as fast as the rest of the state. Park County was the only Basin county to see robust population growth over the past decade and must “share” some of its residents with districts in other counties to make a plan work. 

Even with sharing and lassoing Shoshoni and Lysite into a Big Horn Basin district, the region still has barely enough voters to have nine seats.

It all means there isn’t enough wiggle room in the numbers to let Meeteetse stay in a Park County district, legislators said at a meeting with Big Horn Basin commissioners last week.

If it isn’t Meeteetse residents being shifted, it would have to be residents elsewhere in Park County, legislators say.

State Rep. Dave Bonner, R-Powell, said the legislators’ only alternative to shifting 550 Meeteetse residents to the Hot Springs-centered House District 28 would have resulted in sending 1,000 Garland-area residents out of his Powell-area district.

“If you want to retain in Park County ... those two Meeteetse districts, you’re willing to dispatch 1,000 people out of Park County on the other end,” said Bonner, who is also the Tribune’s publisher. HD 28 also would have be stretched all the way to Shell and Emblem from as far south as Shoshoni, Coe said.

Making those changes were not worth it, legislators decided, but they did find a way to address what they believe was the biggest concern from the Meeteetse residents: the angst over being split up.

“The No. 1 thing they want is to be kept together,” Coe told commissioners.

Instead of leaving one of the Meeteetse-area voting districts in Park County, the legislators’ revised proposal sends all three Meeteetse precincts into House District 28, where they’ll join Hot Springs, southern Big Horn and northern Fremont counties.

Speaking to commissioners, the legislators said Meeteetse residents will not be lost in the legislative shuffle.

“They’re not left out,” said Harvey, who represents House District 26. “They’re better represented than most communities in the state because of the unification we have (among the Basin’s legislators).”

Coe said all four counties “care about each other” and have close ties, noting agricultural interests and public lands that spread across the Basin.

“I’m not going to stop representing Meeteetse if it’s not in my area,” he promised, adding that he works to represent Powell although it’s not in his district.

“To keep the county together feels right,” said Harvey, but she said it was more important to keep together the Big Horn Basin and its ranching and agricultural communities of interest.

Under the revised plan, some Garland-area residents will also have to shift to House District 50, which includes Clark, Crandall, the area between Powell and Cody and the eastern part of Cody, Bonner said. The district currently is represented by Pat Childers, R-Cody.

“We hope that you’ll be able to accept what we have agreed upon as your nine legislators,” Harvey told the group of commissioners.

Park County commissioners, who had joined with the town of Meeteetse and the cities of Powell and Cody to oppose the proposed plan, indicated they accepted the legislators’ explanation of the need to move Meeteetse.

“A very difficult decision and job there, and we appreciate that and thanks for your hard work on that,” said Commission Chairman Tim French.

The Corporations, Elections & Political Subdivisions Committee meets Jan. 19, to finalize its state-wide redistricting plan; it will then be debated during the Legislature’s 2012 budget session.

The committee is accepting comments through Jan. 18. More information about the process and how to submit comments can be found by visiting http://legisweb.state.wy.us and clicking the link marked “2011 Legislative Redistricting.”

The redistricting affects only state House and Senate voting districts and does not alter other voting boundaries such as school districts, fire districts or county government races.

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2 comments

  • posted by Dewey

    January 14, 2012 9:24 am

    P.S. --- I left out my most important point actually . Meeteetse will almost get Double Representation out of this reapportionment, if they play it right. Park County certainly will not abandon them , and any Cody-Powell state legislators are certainly going to be sympathetic to Meeteetse concerns by simple fiat of geography , and of course the cultural colloquialism going back 130 years . Meeteetse is after all, 11 years older than Cody and almost 25 years older than Powell.

    So at the least , Meeteetse and its ranching surrounds will see a 1.5-2X net gain in real working representation where the rubber meets the road , even if they lose a little at the ballot box.

    Very clever of them . Do absolutely nothing and get rewarded with political curry and favor....

  • posted by Dewey

    January 12, 2012 9:54 am

    Does it really matter where Meeteetse's voting boundaries fall ? When this corner of the state is politically of one mind ( barnwood and cinderblock Republican ). Not really. Meeteetse actually has very little in common with Cody and Powell but a lot in common with Tensleep, Hyattville, Manderson etc when it comes to state issues and representation thereof. At the County level, Meeteetse still has good representation on the PC Commission , and those county boards are creatures of the Legislature. It used to be a given that the 3-man County Commission would have one Cody rep, one Powell rep, and one Meeteetse rep. But that was when Meeteetse was a viable thriving self-supporting ranching and oil community. These days , Meeteetse has 1/4 of its former population and is mainly a bedroom community for Cody. And Cody is vastly over-represented on the Park County Commission.

    For some perspective, just a few elections ago, Montana had two representatives in Congress but now is entitled by census population to only one Congressman. Yet Montana has nearly double the population of Wyoming.

    Bottom Line: so long as Meeteetse is represented by a Big Horn Basin delegation who actually listens to its concerns and works toward its goals, it really doesn't matter all that much . Not in this day and age. It isn't about the dispersion of population , it's what you do with it where the political shoe leather meets the gravel. Whomever represents Meeteetse needs to --duh!--- represent Meeteetse ( a verb ).

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