In our view: Massive Mapmaking
Works begins for independent, bipartisan commission that will redraw state’s districts
Tuesday, January 25, 2011
Last week the first brick was placed in what will become Washington state’s restructured representation at both the Congressional and state legislative levels. The process only happens decennially (every 10 years), and warrants the attention of Washingtonians because it presents a powerful civics lesson.
On Jan. 18 in Olympia, the redistricting commission’s four members met for the first time. They are Republicans Slade Gorton (former U.S. senator) and Tom Huff (former state legislator), plus Democrats Tim Ceis (former Seattle deputy mayor) and Dean Foster (former chief of staff for Gov. Booth Gardner). Each was appointed by a legislative caucus, and they’ve got until the end of the month to appoint the committee’s chairman, a nonvoting fifth member.
Massive research and extensive deliberations will help the commission redraw congressional districts (expanding from nine to 10 as a result of Census data) and to redraw boundaries for 49 legislative districts. Those new configurations will apply to the 2012 elections.
And here’s what makes redistricting so worthy of Washingtonians’ close inspection: Our state performs this task so exceedingly well. As established by the 1983 Legislature, an independent, bipartisan commission (two Republicans, two Democrats, plus a nonvoting chairman) will perform the task. This includes public-involvement campaigns, the digestion of massive amounts of computer data and the immensely complex geographical challenge of remapping state politics in ways that are fair to as many people as possible. It’s not perfect, but it’s about as fair and nonpartisan as possible.
By contrast, Oregon is headed for what likely will become a partisan redistricting feud, possibly one that could end up in court. Oregon’s Legislature will redraw five Congressional districts (same as the current number) and 60 legislative districts. Both the state House and the state Senate have redistricting committees, and if they cannot agree on a plan, the task falls to Secretary of State Kate Brown, who would forward a plan to the Oregon State Supreme Court. Complicating this process this year is the fact that Oregon’s state House is evenly divided between Democrats and Republicans.
Idaho has a redistricting system similar to Washington’s.
Our state’s redistricting process warrants special attention here in Southwest Washington, where speculation is that our 3rd Congressional District probably will be “flattened” if we lost Olympia and if the 3rd is stretched to a wider configuration, deeper into the Columbia River Gorge.
By the numbers
14.1 percent — growth in state population in the past decade, since the last redistricting.
670,000 — Number of people in each of the state’s 10 congressional districts that will be drawn this year.
115,000 — Approximate number of residents by which Southwest Washington’s 3rd Congressional District will be reduced to reach the new level.
2 percent — The maximum population shift in a district for any changes the Legislature chooses to make in the commission’s recommending plan.
435 — number of U.S. House seats that are reapportioned every 10 years.
4 — Number of new Congressional seats for Texas, which leads all states; Florida will receive two, with one each going to Arizona, George, Nevada, South Carolina, Utah and Washington.
2 — Number of Congressional seats lost by New York and Ohio (each), with Illinois, Iowa, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, New Jersey and Pennsylvania losing one each.