Redistricting commission ends comment period

Panel hears concerns about minority-majority districts, Pacific County

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OLYMPIA — Comments about Southwest Washington redistricting were received Tuesday as the redistricting commission wrapped up the monthlong public comment period on 2011 redistricting plans.

The commission received 239 unique comments from more than 686 people during the public comment period, according to Bonnie Bunning, executive director of the Washington State Redistricting Commission.

Several advocatesfor minority-majority districtsspoke at the redistricting meeting Tuesday, including George Cheung, who spoke for the United for Fair Representation group, which submitted map proposals during the comment period. Cheung specifically commented on the need for a minority-majority legislative district in Yakima County in light of the 2010 Census data.

One plan, proposed by Commissioner Slade Gorton, made the 15th Legislative District a Hispanic minority-majority district and included part of east Clark County. The maps submitted by United for Fair Representation proposed a district that would be completely contained within Yakima County, which Cheung said would be more effective to combat a history of discrimination in the county.

“People of color vote as a bloc and vote differently than their white counterparts,” Cheung said, citing two examples of “highly qualified Latinos” who were defeated in their attempts to run for Yakima City Council.

Nansen Malin, a politically active resident of Pacific County, spoke against proposals that would remove Pacific County from Southwest Washington’s 3rd Congressional District.

“Pacific County’s economy is tied to the Columbia River, not to Grays Harbor,” Malin said. “South Pacific County would be completely isolated if moved out of the 3rd Congressional District.”

‘Doesn’t make sense’

Additionally, Malin said the community would not be well represented in the 6th Congressional District, as proposed by Commissioner Tim Ceis.

“I don’t understand what I have in common with (U.S. Rep.) Norm Dicks, nothing,” Malin said. “It would take me three to four hours just to drive up to a district office of his. It seems like there’s got to be a reason behind what they’re saying because it doesn’t make sense to me.”

Malin said she believes the Democrat commissioners are drawing district lines to create a district where Denny Heck could successfully run for Congress. Malin said the commissioners were attempting to make up for the loss in Democratic votes they are currently receiving from Thurston County by cutting out Pacific County.

At the Sept. 13 redistricting meeting, Ceis justified moving Pacific County to reflect the concerns of coastal communities.

Malin, however, said the area does not have those similar coastal concerns but is more connected to Southwest Washington and Oregon through trade on the Columbia River.

“We’re founded by people from Walla Walla and Oregon. As the industry grew they continued that trade. They don’t go up to the ports in Grays Harbor,” Malin said.

Malin is also the director of Americans for Prosperity in Washington, but stated that her comments were made as a private citizen and not representative of the organization.

Commissioners are now tasked to come up with a final draft of the plan, which county auditors hope will happen soon.

Douglas County Auditor Thad Duvall spoke for the Washington State Association of County Auditors at the meeting and stressed the importance of an expedited process as county auditors have several tasks to complete before the 2012 election.

Clark County Auditor Greg Kimsey said the only concern he has for the redistricting commission is its ability to get a final plan approved as quickly as possible.

“The one message I’ve shared with the Legislature is that we would very much like to see a redistricting plan approved early in the session,” Kimsey said. “People who are running as candidates will need to know what district they’re in and voters will need to know what district they reside in.”

According to Kimsey, candidate filing for next year will occur in May, which is earlier than ever.

The commissioners agreed their decisions should be completed in early November and set a target between Nov. 8-15, to be ready for the special session, which is scheduled to start Nov. 28.

However, Commissioner Dean Foster, one of four commissioners on the panel and a veteran of the last commission, warned they were far from a final draft.

“I just don’t want people to be fooled by this. I would like to get done, too, but we’re not there yet and it might take us a long time,” Foster said.