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Population growth gives Montana second U.S. House seat

by IRIS SAMUELS Associated Press
| April 28, 2021 1:00 AM

HELENA (AP) — Montana's recent population boom will let the state regain the second U.S. House seat it lost nearly 30 years ago, according to U.S. Census Bureau figures released Monday.

With over 1 million people, the state's current at-large congressional district is the most populous in the U.S. and is second only to Alaska's in geographic size.

Montana was one of six states to gain an additional U.S. House seat along with Texas, Colorado, Florida, North Carolina and Oregon. Texas gained two seats while the other states received one new seat.

The state had two congressional districts until it lost one after the 1990 census, as population growth stagnated during the 1980s. The at-large district has been held by Republicans consecutively for more than two decades.

Montana's growth has been led by towns known for their proximity to outdoor recreation, including Bozeman, Missoula and Kalispell. The overall population has grown to over 1.08 million — about a 10% increase.

Even in a state dominated by the Republican Party, which controls the governor's office, the state House and Senate, and one of the state's U.S. Senate seats, the second U.S. House seat is not guaranteed to favor the GOP.

The task of drawing Montana's congressional districts will fall on the state's redistricting commission, a non-partisan body of five members — two appointed by Republicans, two by Democrats and a chairperson appointed by the state Supreme Court.

Commissioner Kendra Miller, a Democratic appointee, said the commission is likely to face significant political pressure as the process of redistricting begins.

The commission will take public input, but Miller said a return to the previous configurations, which divided the state into eastern and western districts, is unlikely. The population in the western part of the state, which includes Kalispell, Missoula, and the state capital of Helena, has grown more rapidly than the population in eastern Montana.

"That old map just isn't going to work," Miller said. "The whole premise of redistricting is that we're equalizing population for fair representation."

Montana Senate President Mark Blasdel, a Republican from Kalispell, celebrated the announcement, saying it would ensure Montana residents are better represented in Congress.

"After decades of being underrepresented, Montanans will finally have a proportional voice in the U.S. House of Representatives," he said in a statement. "Montana's redistricting commission now needs to draw our district lines to best serve ordinary Montanans and avoid partisan gerrymandering."

Sandi Luckey, director of the Montana Democratic Party, also called for the districts to be drawn to ensure that competition for the new seat remains fair.

"To make sure this office truly reflects the will of all Montanans we must redouble our efforts to protect all eligible Montanans' right to access the ballot box," she said in a statement.