Redrawn maps alone won’t change Clark County politics

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A pair of legislative districts in Clark County look drastically different on the map approved by the Washington State Redistricting Commission late Sunday night. But the redrawn map is not expected to shift the political balance in the county.

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.

Parts of Clark County saw rapid population growth since 2001, which meant some of its districts were expected to shrink geographically. None did so more than the 18th.

The district currently includes Washougal, Camas, a corridor in east Vancouver, the northern half of Clark County and a vast swath of Cowlitz County east of Interstate 5. The new map has the district gain a little more area around Washougal — but its northern boundary is now south of the Cowlitz County line for almost its entire length.

Residents of eastern Cowlitz County and a chunk of northern Clark County who currently live in the 18th will vote in the 20th District for at least the next ten years.

And one local legislator will live outside of his current district under the proposal. The home of Rep. Ed Orcutt, R-Kalama, will be part of the 20th District. He does not plan to move south to run for his current 18th District seat in November because he would be moving too far from the clients of his forestry consulting business, Orcutt said Monday.

He’ll have to campaign in parts of Lewis and Thurston counties, in addition to his home area.

“I’ll start with the 38,000 people who’ve been in my district and go meet the 99,000 new constituents,” Orcutt said.

The demographics in what will become his new district are fairly similar to where he has campaigned, he said. And that means the issues he’ll work on in Olympia if re-elected will also affect Clark County voters, Orcutt said.

“I’m going to miss working with a lot of the (people) I’ve worked with,” he said. “But the situation is such that I’ll end up in a different district.”

More county reps

Clark County Republican leaders will be sad to see Orcutt go to a district that has so little territory in the county, said Brandon Vick, chairman of the county’s Republican Party.

“But it’s probably a good thing that we’ll have more folks representing Clark County,” he said.

With the 20th stretching so far south, Clark County will now include portions of five legislative districts, up from four.

Two of those districts barely changed. The 49th, which centers on downtown Vancouver, appears to have gained a small area north of 99th Street. The 17th District, a narrow strip east of Interstate 205, seems to have lost a little bit in its northeast corner.

The 17th may become even more of a swing district now, said Dan Ogden, former chairman of the Clark County Democratic Party.

But overall, political influence will remain almost the same, said Nick Ande, vice chairman of the local Democrats. Although the 18th lost a big Republican-leaning, rural chunk, it’s still not expected to go to the Democrats just based on map changes alone, Ande said.

The Republican chairman agreed. The 18th voted about 60 percent Republican last time around. The Republicans’ data show that this might drop by a couple of percentage points based on the new map, Vick said, but the redistricting alone won’t cause it to drop all the way below 50 percent, he said.

Local voters in 14th

The boundaries of an area in far eastern Clark County have barely changed — the rectangle north of Washougal on the Skamania County line only lost a little bit on its southern end. But its affiliation will be very different in the next election cycle.

That eastern portion of Clark County will become part of the 14th District instead of the 15th, as it currently is. Wrangling over the make-up of these two districts was part of the reason the state commission worked late on New Year’s Day.

The commission finished its work two hours shy of a midnight deadline Sunday.

It struggled with the boundaries of several Eastern Washington districts, including two whose major population centers are majority-Hispanic cities in the Yakima Valley. The commission finally created the state’s first majority-minority district, by drastically realigning the 15th, which now is almost 55 percent Latino, according to a statement by the Senate Democrats.

Instead of reaching south and west from Yakima all the way into Clark County, the 15th will point east into the lower Yakima Valley.

In its place, the 14th — formerly a small district focused on the city of Yakima — will cover much of Yakima County, all of Klickitat and Skamania counties, and that rectangle in eastern Clark County.

This means Rep. Norm Johnson, R-Yakima, will ask people in rural Clark County to vote for him in November.

“I’ll have to get up to speed on timber issues,” Johnson said.

His home district is largely agricultural. Johnson said he talked to his two district colleagues — Sen. Curtis King, R-Yakima, and Rep. Charles Ross, R-Naches. All three are up for election in November and already have plans to travel to the new areas of their district when the legislative session ends in March.

Johnson is no stranger to Southwest Washington, he said. He has relatives in Camas and Washougal.

The commission’s final proposal will go to the state Legislature, which has 30 days from the Jan. 9 start of the legislative session to tweak the proposal. The Legislature can only shift the proposal by 2 percent of a district’s population and any such change must be approved by two-thirds of both chambers.

Jacques Von Lunen: 360-735-4515; jacques.vonlunen@columbian.com