With little more than two months left, the county is at long last making progress on efforts to redraw the council districts map.
The five-member bipartisan redistricting committee began meeting earlier in October and is now working through the existing four-district map as well as the proposed five-district map included in Proposition 3 on the November ballot.
Under state law, counties that use districts to elect their governing members must use recent census numbers to adjust district boundaries to keep populations equal. The redistricting has until the end of the year to complete the work.
The redistricting committee was left with a shorter window to complete the work after the process to nominate its members hit roadblocks. Those roadblocks were members of the Clark County Council.
Where a similar redistricting effort at the state level highlighted divisions between Democrats and Republicans, it was the county council’s work in creating the committee that revealed growing schisms between council members and between the council and Clark County Republican Party leadership.
The fractures began appearing in late June and early July when the council first approached the Clark County Republican Party and the Clark County Democrats to provide committee nominations.
According to the county charter, the council appoints “two (members) from each major political party from a list of five (names) submitted by the party’s central committee” with the fifth member selected by the committee members to serve as the chair. What the charter doesn’t specify is how the parties select those names or what happens when the council doesn’t agree with how they were selected.
After the CCRP executive board selected five names and sent them on to the council, Council Chair Eileen Quiring O’Brien sent a text to Republican Chair Joel Mattila saying, “You need to cancel the vote and call a meeting!! Joel, I have the votes on the council to reject the nominees if you send them to us under these current conditions.”
Rather than CCRP leadership selecting the names, Quiring O’Brien wanted the party’s 200-plus precinct committee officers to vote on the names. Both Quiring O’Brien and Councilor Karen Bowerman are Republican PCOs.
The council ultimately did reject that first list of names. In an email Quiring O’Brien sent to the CCRP leadership and PCOs, she said, “The council rejected the names brought forward after considering the concerns voiced by elected PCOs.”
“You have your marching orders you do the right thing!” Quiring O’Brien said in the text message to Mattila.
Quiring O’Brien further said the CCRP would lose the opportunity to nominate names for the committee if Mattila failed to act.
A second vote was held on July 7. “Nominations were sent to the chairman of the (Clark County Republican Central Committee), and all members of the CCRCC were invited to cast their vote for five names. This process maximized participation with easier access and a significantly larger time frame for voting and which 148 members participated,” Mattila said in an letter to the council. That list of names was also rejected by the council.
Councilor Gary Medvigy laid some of the blame at the council’s feet. During a July 14 council meeting to review names provided by both Republicans and Democrats, Medvigy said the timeline the council set was too short.
“Neither party really responded in a timely way, and one party rushed through it. It was all because of this inappropriate timeline,” Medvigy said. “I’m glad we’re redoing it. It’s the business of the parties that we don’t want to get into, but I think it was our initial letter that caused this entire issue.”
Medvigy said sending the list back would allow the CCRP to redo the nominations “in the spirit of full democracy” for the PCO membership.
Not everyone on the council agreed with rejecting the CCRP’s first list of nominations.
Fellow Republican Councilor Julie Olson said during the meeting, “I don’t know that it’s our role to get into how they operate their party business.”
Councilor Temple Lentz abstained from voting because she was the only member of the council “not a member of the party being discussed.”
Quiring O’Brien said during the July 14 meeting that she had not received any complaints from Democrats related to their nomination process, which were approved by a unanimous vote.
A third vote for the Republican nominations was held on Aug. 12.
“I would suggest we allow that meeting to take place and see if it is fruitful,” Quiring O’Brien said during an Aug. 4 council meeting, “and at that time accept the results of that meeting and begin to look at both of the parties’ candidates for the redistricting committee.”
Olson noted the council had received an email from the CCRP chair stating the final list of names had already been submitted by the CCRP executive board.
“What the chair of the party states in an email has no significance when the council has voted,” Quiring O’Brien said.
Olson countered that the county council did not have legal authority to either reject the names or to tell the CCRP how to conduct its nominations.
“Our business is not to control either one of these political parties as county council members,” Olson said. “I understand you and Councilor Bowerman are PCOs, but that’s a separate political process.”
When Olson said the council had illegally voted to reject the nominations, Quiring O’Brien responded, “So what? The council voted. You’re not an attorney. … The council made a decision whether you like it or don’t.”
The third list of names, produced during the Aug. 12 PCO meeting, was finally accepted by the council later that same month.
The entire process for the redistricting committee nominations has left some ill will behind.
In an interview Monday, Mattila said, “They ultimately imposed their will on another organization.”
Mattila said it wasn’t the county council’s place to dictate how the Republican Party conducts its business.
“There’s nowhere in the charter that says they have the authority to reject the names provided,” Mattila added.
In an email sent to The Columbian on Monday, Quiring O’Brien said, “The Republican Party (and its elected precinct committee officers) is the entity that makes the decision about the names brought forward from which the Clark County Council makes their selection for the County Redistricting Committee. Therefore, naturally those would be the constituents most interested and involved in communicating with the Republican members of the council (or me as the chair of the council).”
For more information about the redistricting process, go to https://clark.wa.gov/councilors/redistricting-committee.