Benton on Redistricting
City Councilor Isaac Benton may see the end of his district if a Republican-backed plan takes effect. A new Westside seat would be created instead. The Alibi spoke with Benton about redistricting and the complex region he represents, which includes much of the city’s core.
Why can’t the city just add a district for the Westside?
We would have to go from nine to 11 in order to break ties. We need to be looking at and thinking about amending the City Charter to do this. Critics will say we are expanding government, but if that is what it takes to maintain equal representation, then we should do it. Council costs would increase a little, but in this case, the Westside could actually have four districts. Smaller districts mean better representation.
Should the Rio Grande be the districts’ east-west boundary?
Dividing at the river is distorting the process. District 3 has crossed the river for the last 20 years. Why do you want to draw the line now? I think it is a good thing to cross the river. It benefits both sides and brings the two sides together. There are lots of amenities on both sides of the river that could feed off each other.
Is it easier for the mid-Heights region to join its neighbors than for the core of the city to join the North Valley?
Without question, the Heights districts are more homogenous. The Heights are newer, having been developed since the ’70s. Most of District 3 was developed in 1915.
Does the proposed plan diminish minority representation?
Yes, it is certainly takes away the voice from the parts of the city that help us establish our sense of place. The Heights neighborhoods are nice, but they don’t establish our sense of place, our identity or our culture. The areas the visitors and employers like to visit in terms of unique cultural offerings are the University area, Old Town and Downtown. These parts of the city need their own representation.
What can people do to weigh in on the issue?
Write a letter to the Council, to the mayor. Come speak before the Council. Write to the local papers. If it comes down to going to court, for instance—and I am not saying it will, but many times redistricting does—the more voices heard by the Council, the better.