In Our View: Changes in the 3rd

New plan has expected impacts on our corner of the state

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The 3rd Congressional District of Southwest Washington will be getting flatter and more red, according to a plan announced Wednesday by the Washington State Redistricting Commission. The district currently served by U.S. Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-Camas, would lose its connection to liberal-leaning Olympia on its northern boundary and gain generally conservative Klickitat County on its eastern side.

Whether that’s good news or bad news depends on your political persuasion. Republicans in Southwest Washington certainly will toast the 3rd’s rightward shift as proper and long overdue, while area Democrats will mourn the metamorphosis. But the bigger bottom line is clear: No one should be surprised. Even casual political observers knew this was coming ever since Washington gained a 10th Congressional District as part of the redistricting procedure triggered by the 2010 Census. And as expected, the new plan positioned the 10th in and around liberal Olympia.

Sophisticated political junkies will intensely debate the myriad impacts of this change, but we don’t see it as overwhelming. Most folks in Olympia probably don’t think of themselves as Southwest Washingtonians but as Puget Sounders. We’re not sure if Klickitat County residents think of themselves as Southwest Washingtonians, but remaining in a basically conservative district should be enough to keep them happy.

The plan is not final, but already there are several noteworthy regional and state factors to ponder in the bipartisan proposal:

Herrera Beutler’s district would extend east of the Cascades, which means she will have more and different agriculture-related issues to deal with. Her new district would add about 86 miles along the Columbia River and would extend more than 250 miles, from Alderdale to Ilwaco.

In fact, it’s difficult to imagine a more diverse constituency for a member of Congress, ranging from coastal communities in Pacific County to large urban areas around Vancouver to the rainy west stretch of the Columbia River Gorge to orchards on the dry side in Klickitat County.

Certainly, the 20,000-plus residents of Klickitat County are more conservative than constituents Herrera Beutler would lose in Olympia, but their political leanings should not be taken for granted. In presidential elections, Klickitat has favored both Democrats and Republicans, ranging from Michael Dukakis in 1988 to George W. Bush in 2004 and Barack Obama (by a mere 21 votes) in 2008.

Regarding statewide impacts, The Associated Press reports that the new plan would leave four “comfortably” Republican districts, including the 3rd, and five Democratic-leaning districts, including the 10th, plus what is expected to be a swing district, the 1st in the state’s northwest corner.

No incumbents would have to move, a bit different than what is seen in current unofficial plans for legislative districts, where five legislators (including state Rep. Ed Orcutt of Kalama in the 18th District) likely will see their residences shift to other districts.

Soon after the new 10th District’s location was announced, Olympia Democrat Denny Heck — a graduate of Columbia River High School who fell short in a bid for the 3rd Congressional seat — announced his candidacy in the new district. So did Republican Dick Muri, a Pierce County Council member.

All of which means that 2012 will bring an abundance of exciting news for both Republicans and Democrats. Buckle up for a wild ride, and remain ready to closely scrutinize the candidates and the issues as newly redistricted Washington moves into a new era of political drama.