Washington redistricting panel to meet in Vancouver
Group seeks input to help it redraw congressional, legislative district boundaries
Originally published May 12, 2011 at 7:45 p.m., updated May 13, 2011 at 3:53 p.m.
The Washington State Redistricting Commission, which is charged with redrawing both congressional and legislative district boundaries this year to reflect 2010 Census figures, will hold an informational meeting and a public hearing next Thursday in Vancouver.
The session will be at the Hilton Vancouver Washington, with a presentation by the commission at 6 p.m. Members of the public are invited to offer their views from 7 to 9 p.m.
“We really want to hear what the communities feel are their important characteristics,” said commission spokeswoman Cathy Cochrane. “We want to know how we can draw the lines so that one person has one vote and everybody feels their voice is being heard in government.”
The five-member bipartisan commission has set a November deadline for producing maps showing new boundaries for the state’s 49 legislative districts and 10 congressional districts.
Washington will gain a 10th seat in the U.S. House of Representatives next year as a result of the latest Census, which revealed that the state’s population had increased by nearly 1 million, to 6.7 million, since the 2000 Census.
Stakes are high
For Clark County and Southwest Washington, the stakes are high. The region will see changes in both its legislative and 3rd Congressional District boundaries as a result of population growth, especially in the 17th and 18th legislative districts.
To bring the state’s legislative districts into compliance with the one person, one vote requirement in the U.S. Constitution, boundaries must be redrawn to give each of the 49 legislative districts and each of its 10 congressional districts an equal population. The target population for each legislative district is 137,236.
Census figures show the 18th District, which includes Camas, Washougal, Felida, Salmon Creek, Ridgefield, north Clark County and south Cowlitz County, exceeds that target by 22,847, or 16.6 percent. That means the heavily Republican district must shrink significantly.
The 17th District, widely regarded as a swing district, covers Vancouver east of I-205. Its population exceeds the target by 13,491, or 9.8 percent, so it too will shrink.
The 49th District, which includes Vancouver west of I-205 and unincorporated Hazel Dell, is shy of the population target by 2,457, or 1.8 percent, so the historically Democratic district likely will expand a little.
And the 15th District, which covers a small part of east Clark County, as well as Skamania and Klickitat counties and most of Yakima County, also will grow slightly, if the lines of the oddly shaped district aren’t completely redrawn. The 15th is 4,448 people shy of the target, or 3.2 percent.
The state’s congressional map likely will be redrawn to lop off the north end of the 3rd District, which presently includes all or parts of seven Southwest Washington counties, with Clark County as its population center.
Voters in the 3rd, historically a swing district, elected Republican Jaime Herrera Beutler last year after 12 years of representation by Democrat Brian Baird. But the 3rd’s most heavily Democratic county, Thurston, where the state capital of Olympia is located, is likely to become part of the new 10th District, potentially giving the 3rd a more Republican bent.
The 2010 census showed the 3rd District with a population of 779,348, which means it will have to shed 106,894 people to meet the target of 672,454 in each of the state’s congressional districts.
Clark County Republican Chairman Brandon Vick said the changes in the 3rd will benefit his party, but not dramatically.
“Politically speaking, we’re excited to have a district that would be a little more friendly and not razor-thin every time around,” he said. ”But regardless, I would say this will still be pretty close to being a swing district.”
The 18th District will shrink dramatically, Vick said, and the Cowlitz County towns of Kalama, Woodland, Castle Rock and Toutle may move to the 19th District.
“The 49th has to bring in 2,500 people,” he said. “I think that’s probably one of the most contentious districts because obviously (Democrats) want to keep it as blue as they can.”
Ed Cote, Democratic national committeeman from Vancouver, said he doesn’t expect big changes in legislative boundaries. Cole is a veteran of the redistricting process, having been involved following the 1980, 1990 and 2000 Census counts.
“I don’t think (Democrats) will lose a district, certainly not in the 49th,” he said. “We’ll just be tweaked around the edges.”
Cote would like to see a redrawing of the 15th, however.
“My unhappiness with the 15th is that it’s a Yakima-based district,” he said. “I have nothing against Yakima County, but the interests of Clark County and Yakima County are totally different. I don’t think that has served us very well.”
He agreed that the bigger change will come with redrawing of the 3rd Congressional District boundaries, but wasn’t ready to predict that Democrats will lose ground.
“It depends on where the lines are drawn for the new seat,” he said. “That’s why the hearings are important.”
The new boundaries are also important to political candidates, some of whom won’t know until January where they’ll end up, Cote said.
Oregon system differs
Washington’s redistricting process is in sharp contrast to that of its neighbor to the south.
In Oregon, redistricting is a sharply partisan process because the Legislature is responsible for redrawing the boundaries. Democratic and Republican legislators there released competing congressional redistricting maps this week, and a partisan debate is sure to ensue, because the maps will help determine who controls the closely divided Oregon Legislature and whether Democrats are likely to retain four of the state’s five congressional districts.
For most of its history, Washington used a similar process. But in 1983, the state’s voters passed a constitutional amendment giving the responsibility for drawing political boundaries to an independent bipartisan commission.
The current commission is the third to be appointed. Majority and minority legislative leaders selected two Democrats and two Republicans as voting members, and those four then selected a non-voting chairman.
Besides drawing the lines to make districts “as nearly equal as practicable,” the commission must also take other matters into consideration. Under state law, the maps must be drawn to coincide with local subdivisions such as city and county boundaries and “communities of interest.”
The districts are supposed to be “convenient, contiguous and compact” and provide fair and effective representation but also encourage electoral competition.
They are not supposed to be drawn to purposely favor or discriminate against any political party or group.
Lawmakers may review the maps and even amend them but can’t change the boundaries significantly.
Individual citizens may submit their own proposed maps to the commission. Their input “is going to weigh pretty heavily on the decision,” Cochrane said.
Democratic appointees to the commission are Tim Ceis, former deputy Seattle mayor, chief of staff to King County Executive Ron Sims and former policy adviser to Gov. Gary Locke; and Dean Foster, Olympia, a former chief clerk of the House of Representatives and former chief of staff to Gov. Booth Gardner.
Republican members are former U.S. Sen. Slade Gorton of Bellevue, a former state House majority leader, state attorney general and 9/11 Commission member; and Tom Huff, former state House Appropriations Committee chairman and a retired business leader from Gig Harbor.
Lura Powell, appointed by the four as their chairwoman, chairs the Board of Trustees of the Washington State Life Sciences Discovery Fund and is a former director of the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory.