Vancouver man challenges state's redistricting plan

He petitions Washington Supreme Court for an opinion

By Stevie Mathieu, Columbian assistant metro editor

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A Vancouver resident who has been outspoken about the way the state redraws its voting district boundaries is now asking the state’s high court to weigh in.

John Milem, who says he advocates for redistricting that follows a formula rather than political preferences, filed a petition on Wednesday with the Washington State Supreme Court that asks the court to redo the lines. The redistricting plan was finalized Jan. 1 and is based on 2010 Census numbers.

Legislative and congressional districts are adjusted once a decade after Census numbers are released. By law, all legislative and congressional districts around the state must be home to roughly the same number of residents.

The Constitution gives the court the power to intervene in redistricting, and it has until March 1 to do so.

Milem’s main complaint is that the state’s redistricting commission failed to redraw the lines in a way outlined by state law and the state constitution. The current redistricting plan limits political competition and doesn’t best represent the communities of Washington state, according to the petition.

Milem said that citizens reformed redistricting rules in 1983, but the rules didn’t have teeth, and those redrawing the lines continued to do so without the public’s interest in mind.

“This lawsuit is 20 years late,” Milem said on Wednesday. “It’s not enough to get a law passed. You have to be sure that it’s enforced.”

Redistricting was supposed to avoid splitting cities and counties, Milem has pointed out in the past. Yet the congressional maps split nine counties compared with seven in the previous map. He says it was only necessary to split three to four counties. Seventeen counties are split in the leg

islative map. Only 11 needed to be split, he says.

He says political interests, such as the desire to keep an incumbent in his/her seat or wanting to keep Democrats/Republicans in a district, prevented that from happening.

Milem said citizens in other states have successfully overturned redistricting decisions by petitioning state supreme courts. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court recently decided that its state redistricting map was unconstitutional after a piano teacher from the state named Amanda Holt crunched the Census numbers herself and brought them to court.

Last month, the Washington state Redistricting Commission passed a resolution recognizing Milem as the equivalent of the redistricting volunteer of the year. Milem describes himself as an “advocate for redistricting in the public interest.”

Without pay or position, the 75-year-old resident of Vancouver’s Fircrest Neighborhood attended nearly all of the commission’s 18 public forums around the state and the commission’s other regular and special meetings in Olympia.

“I’ve watchdogged this from the beginning,” Milem said on Wednesday. “I think that it’s really important that every one of us as citizens do what we can to keep our government on track.”

Stevie Mathieu: 360-735-4523 or stevie.mathieu@columbian.com or www.facebook.com/reportermathieu or www.twitter.com/col_politics