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News / Northwest

Washington Republicans wrestle with realities of a redrawn political map

GOP lawmakers used a Senate hearing to air concerns with a court-ordered redistricting that displaced their colleagues and boosted Democrats’ election prospects this fall

By Jerry Cornfield, Washington State Standard
Published: May 8, 2024, 6:16pm

Republican state lawmakers on Tuesday renewed their grievances with a court-ordered redistricting that’s reshaped Washington’s political landscape in a way that threatens to be unfavorable for the Grand Old Party in this year’s elections.

In a committee work session, three GOP senators registered disbelief that the redrawn 14th Legislative District at the center of the controversy has fewer Latinos of voting age than before and shifted from reliably Republican to highly favorable for Democrats based on past elections.

And they noted the solution approved by a federal judge in March pushed three of their Senate colleagues into new districts. None called it a partisan gerrymander but left little doubt they believe it is.

“So redistricting basically took all Republican legislators out of it and then increased the Democrat percentage,” said Sen. Perry Dozier, R-Waitsburg in the meeting of the State Government and Elections Committee.

Comments from Dozier and Republican Sens. Jeff Wilson of Longview and Phil Fortunato of Auburn echo Republicans’ continuing frustration with the results of a lawsuit filed by Latino voters in 2022 concerning the 15th Legislative District in the Yakima Valley.

Five Republican legislators – three senators and two representatives – wound up in new districts while no Democrat was displaced. Democrats are looking to grow their majorities – now 58-40 in the House and 29-20 in the Senate – with an improved outlook from redistricting.

Those prospects are the outcome of the lawsuit, which argued the map crafted by the bipartisan Washington State Redistricting Commission violated the federal Voting Rights Act by impairing the ability of Latino voters to participate equally in elections.

U.S. District Court Judge Robert Lasnik agreed in 2023 and ordered it redrawn. Two months ago he approved a new political map. As part of the solution he renumbered the 15th district as 14th ensuring legislative positions, including the state Senate seat, are on ballots in presidential election years starting this year.

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Plaintiffs argued that the Latino community will have a better chance to elect a candidate of their choosing in these years because that is when turnout of Latino voters is historically higher.

Whether the legal outcome is a win for the Latino community will become clearer in the months ahead, said Rep. Sharlett Mena, D-Tacoma, a member of the House State Government and Tribal Relations Committee who took part in the work session. “We’ll have to see what turnout is and what the results are,” she said in an interview.

“It is not necessarily about having a Latino candidate. It is about having a candidate that Latinos want in that space,” said Mena, who grew up in East Pasco and has family members living in the Tri-Cities area. “I care a lot about the new 14th. I want to see this go well.”

Political repercussions

Lasnik’s decision redrew boundaries for 13 legislative districts across 12 counties in central and southwest Washington, and the Puget Sound region. More than 500,000 voters are now in new districts, state elections director Stuart Holmes told the committee. That’s roughly 10% of the state’s registered voters.

Five Republican legislators found themselves in new districts. Two incumbents – Sen. Brad Hawkins of Wenatchee and Rep. Gina Mosbrucker of Goldendale – chose not to run again. Sen. Curtis King of Yakima moved across town so that he could. Rep. Chris Corry of Yakima decided to seek an open seat in his new district.

And Sen. Nikki Torres, R-Pasco, elected in the 15th district by an overwhelming margin in 2022, is now living in the 16th district that Dozier represents. Torres, the Senate’s only Republican Latina, can complete her term that runs through 2026 even though she won’t be living within the 15th’s boundaries.

Lasnik’s ruling also opened the door to four first-time legislative candidates – three Democrats and one Republican who are all Latino – in the new 14th Legislative District.

And a Republican former lawmaker hopes to get back to the state House because the new maps return him to the 15th district that he was drawn out of by the state redistricting commission in 2021.

The Washington State Standard is a nonprofit, nonpartisan news outlet that provides original reporting, analysis and commentary on Washington state government and politics. We seek to keep you informed about Washington’s most pressing issues, the decisions elected leaders are making, how they are spending tax dollars and who is influencing public policy. We’re part of States Newsroom, the nation’s largest state-focused nonprofit news organization.