Redistricting Commission releases proposals to redraw state’s political map

By Kathie Durbin, Columbian staff writer

Published:

Updated: September 13, 2011, 6:12 PM

 
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Four proposals for redrawing Washington's Congressional districts

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Proposals for redrawing Washington's Legislative districts

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Members of the Washington State Redistricting Commission, meeting in Olympia Tuesday, unveiled maps showing their four proposals for redrawing the state’s congressional and legislative boundaries.

Because Washington gained a 10th congressional seat as a result of the 2010 Census, the biggest decision the commission faces is where to carve out the new congressional district.

One proposed redistricting plan places the new district on the Olympic Peninsula, another locates it along a wide northern swath of the state bordering Canada, and two others tuck it into the densely populated Puget Sound region.

Under two of the four commissioners’ maps, Southwest Washington’s 3rd Congressional District would lose heavily Democratic Thurston County. Under two scenarios, the 3rd also would lose Pacific County, which trends Democratic. Republican Commissioner Tom Huff’s map adds Klickitat County to the 3rd.

Republican Commissioner Slade Gorton, asked whether the potential shift to a more Republican 3rd District was a factor in his proposal to lop off Thurston County, said not really. “If you look at the present 3rd Congressional District, which is way overpopulated, it’s Thurston County that sort of sticks out. It’s the easiest thing to lop off. I think that makes it slightly more Republican, but I wouldn’t say it turns it into a Republican district.”

Gorton, a former U.S. senator who represented the state Senate Republican Caucus on the panel, actively backed Republican Jaime Herrera Beutler in her successful campaign for the 3rd District seat last year.

“This map does not attempt to do in any of the eight (congressional) incumbents,” he quipped at Tuesday’s meeting. “None is seriously disadvantaged by this plan.”

Regarding their proposals to move Pacific County into the 6th Congressional District, Commissioners Dean Foster and Tim Ceis, representing state Senate and House Democrats, said many county residents expressed a desire to be part of the 6th, which covers the Olympic Peninsula, because they share the concerns of coastal communities.

“I thought that the four coastal counties made a pretty good argument that they should stay together,” Foster said. “Pacific County is more associated with Gray’s Harbor.”

Under all four proposals, the 18th Legislative District, which presently includes parts of Clark and Cowlitz counties, would lose Cowlitz County. That scenario would force state Rep. Ed Orcutt, R-Kalama, to move to Clark County or run for reelection in a different district.

As a new appointee to the Legislature in 2002, Orcutt had to move from Kelso to Kalama as a result of redistricting. He said Tuesday he’ll wait and see what the final map looks like before making a decision about his political future.

“My understanding is, these proposals will be taken out and there will be opportunity for public comment,” he said. “I’ve enjoyed serving the people of the 18th District. I was hoping I would be able to keep serving them.”

The legislative maps propose various other changes to the boundaries of the 49th, 17th, and 18th districts in Clark County. For example, one proposal would move Camas from the 18th to the 17th District.

Both the 18th and the 17th districts need to shrink in size to reach their target populations, while the 49th District, which covers Vancouver west of I-205 and Hazel Dell, needs to expand slightly.

Democrat Denny Heck of Olympia, who lost to Herrera Beutler in last year’s 3rd Congressional District race, has filed to run for Congress again next year in an as yet undetermined district. He issued a statement saying he would have no comment until the final lines are drawn.

“Today’s draft maps offer four different visions of where our state’s congressional district boundaries might be for the next decade,” he said. “Weeks of negotiations remain, and the commissioners will not complete their work until later this year. Out of respect for that process, no formal announcements should be expected from Denny’s campaign until that time,” Heck’s spokesman said.

Representatives of several minority groups thanked the commissioners for responding to their call for creation of a “majority minority” congressional district in south King County. Three of the four congressional redistricting maps propose a district where members of minority groups would constitute the majority of residents.

Some maps also propose “majority minority” legislative districts. For example, Ceis’s plan would create five majority-minority state legislative districts, including a majority Latino district in Yakima County.

Groups including OneAmerica and United for Fair Representation turned out hundreds of immigrants and people of color to testify at the 18 redistricting meetings held around the state. In a statement, OneAmerica Executive Director Pramila Jayapal noted, “the reality that people of color now represent one out of four Washington residents,” and said those numbers helped deliver the state its 10th congressional district.

OneAmerica “will continue to work actively to ensure that our communities of interest are represented and that the issues that unite them are fully recognized by legislators and reflected in our congressional and legislative maps,” Jayapal said.

State law requires the commission to make districts’ populations “as nearly equal as is practicable” and to draw the lines in such a way that they avoid dividing counties and cities.

All the commissioners said their plans focus on keeping “communities of interest” together and trying to avoid splitting cities and counties into separate voting districts.

Gorton said he believes his plan most closely achieves that goal by reducing the number of divided cities on the legislative map from 49 to 17, and on the congressional map from 23 to just three.

This is the third time the state has used the redistricting process approved by voters in 1983 in a constitutional amendment that gives the responsibility for drawing political boundaries to an independent bipartisan commission.

Under the process, legislative leaders from both parties elect two Democrats and two Republicans to the commission, and those four select a non-voting chairman, who has the power to break a tie vote.

Districts are supposed to be “convenient, contiguous and compact,” and are not supposed to be drawn to purposely favor or discriminate against any political party or group.

Detailed maps of the four congressional redistricting proposals and the four legislative redistricting proposals were released on the Redistricting Commission’s web site Tuesday. The commission will hold a public hearing Oct. 11 in Olympia, after which the commissioners will work to reach consensus on a final redistricting plan. That proposal must be completed by Jan. 2, 2012, for the Legislature’s review, but members hope to reach agreement on a single redistricting plan by Nov. 1.

Estelle Gwinn contributed to this story.

Kathie Durbin: 360-735-4523 or kathie.durbin@columbian.com.