New state political map approved

Washington’s Redistricting Commission unanimously approved a new political map Sunday evening, creating the state’s first minority-dominated congressional district and retaining Democrats’ edge over Republicans in the statehouse.

The commission’s plan, approved a few hours before the midnight deadline, also put Shelton, Olympia, Lakewood and University Place in the state’s new 10th Congressional District. The commission’s plan is subject only to minor changes by the Legislature, if it can muster a two-thirds vote, and takes effect in March.

Redistricting is done every decade after the U.S. Census is conducted, equalizing population – and therefore voters’ relative clout – in state and national voting districts. Population growth of about 1 million since 2001 was enough to give Washington, now the 13th-most populous state, an additional U.S. House seat.

In a historic move, the Redistricting Commission agreed to push U.S. Rep. Adam Smith’s 9th District further north into southeast Seattle and Bellevue, making it the state’s first congressional district where a majority of residents are people of color. That made room for the 10th to slide into Thurston County, which had been split into two districts.

“I think there’ll be a contest in the 10th because it is an open seat. But the Democrats will be favored,” Republican commissioner Slade Gorton predicted. But the newly configured 1st Congressional District, which also has no incumbent, is considered the biggest toss-up.

Gorton said the commission’s legislative remapping means that as many as 15 or 16 legislative districts also will be competitive, although a lot of what happens depends on the candidates and the electoral mood come November, the first election affected by the new districts.

If the new legislative boundaries had been in effect in 2010, Democratic commissioner Dean Foster said, most if not all of today’s House Democrats would have won re-election – and one defeated former lawmaker, Dawn Morrell of Puyallup, would have won. But Republican Tom Huff disputed that assessment, saying that the GOP’s analysis shows Democratic Rep. Kathy Haigh of Shelton and Morrell would have lost with the new boundaries.

Approval of the redistricting maps ends a long redistricting process that began in May with a series of 18 public hearings around the state. Unlike other states where partisan legislatures do battle to improve the lot of the majority party, Washington turned the job over to a commission in 1983 – and the rules require three of the four partisan commissioners to agree on a final product.

After reaching an apparent deal on congressional districts last Tuesday, the commission hit an impasse on legislative districts – until Gorton and Foster broke through late Saturday night on remapping Eastern Washington.

Highlights of their deal: The 15th Legislative District in east Yakima County becomes the state’s first majority Latino district, reflecting the changing demographics of Central Washington. It also keeps the 6th District, which wraps around Spokane’s liberal core, as a competitive or swing district, Democratic commissioner Tim Ceis said.

The new plan has many features. On the congressional front:

• U.S. Rep. Norm Dicks, D-Belfair, retains his hold on urban Tacoma in the 6th District that includes the rural Olympic Peninsula, and he gains the Bangor naval base.

• U.S. Rep. Jaime Herrera Buetler, R-Camas, sees her 3rd District become more Republican as it slides out of Democrat-dominated Olympia and into GOP-friendly Eastern Washington along the Columbia River.

• U.S. Rep. Dave Reichert, R-Auburn, sees his 8th District lose Bellevue and grow more staunchly Republican as it crosses the Cascades to include Kittitas and Chelan counties.

• U.S. Rep. Jay Inslee is leaving the 1st District to run for governor, and his district is reconfigured as a swing district – slightly favoring Democrats – ranging from east of Everett and running over suburban and rural areas to the Canadian border. • The 2nd District becomes an urban and coastal district from Everett to the San Juans.

• The new 10th District includes most of Thurston County north of state Route 507, but it leaves the town of Bucoda in the 3rd. Three candidates have already announced that they’ll run in November: Republicans Dick Muri of Lakewood and Stan Flemming of University Place and Democrat Denny Heck of Olympia.

In the legislative plan:

• Republican Rep. Ed Orcutt of Kalama is moved from the 18th District into the 20th, setting off a chain reaction that dislodges other incumbents. Thurston County Rep. Gary Alexander lives on the outskirts of Lacey and is pushed out of the 20th and into the 2nd, where incumbent Republican Rep. Jim McCune of Graham is pushed out and into the 28th, which has two Democratic House members.

• In another chain reaction, Democratic Sen. Margarita Prentice of Renton is moved from the 11th District into the 37th, where Sen. Adam Kline, D-Seattle, is the incumbent.

• The cities of Milton and Pacific are placed in the 30th Legislative and 8th Congressional districts. Earlier plans were in conflict over how those communities along the Pierce-King border would be split.

• The 35th District snakes further into Thurston County, south of Olympia and Tumwater and north of the south county cities of Tenino and Rainier. Republican commissioner Tom Huff of Gig Harbor said he thinks the 35th, which is served by three Democrats, is among the legislative districts that will become more competitive.

Changes to the 15th District could be controversial. The new 15th fills east Yakima County, including urbanized east Yakima and moving east toward the Benton County line. It includes the towns of Sunnyside and Grandview.

State Rep. Bruce Chandler, a Republican orchardist from Granger, said he thinks 15th District voters will resent that race and ethnicity were factors in drawing his district’s lines.

“The changes are more dramatic this time than they have been,” Chandler said. “What most people want is for redistricting to be done openly. They want it done by the law. And they want every constituent treated the same. In the proposed plan, almost 50,000 people are displaced from their current district in the 14th and 15th.’’

But it is far from clear whether the Republican incumbents will see their chances of re-election change.

Grandview City Council member Jesse Palacios, who is also a former mayor and former Republican commissioner in Yakima County, said a Latino-majority district is “a good thing,” but he is unsure whether more Latinos will get involved as candidates or voters in an area that is solidly Republican.

Asked about Chandler’s remarks, Palacios said: “I don’t think people are going to resent it for very long.”

An advocacy group calling itself United for Fair Representation turned out hundreds of people to testify around the state in support of majority-minority districts.

“There’s no question this is going to create greater participation, because the expectation is higher now,’’ said Nate Miles, a member of the Win Win Network from Seattle who testified along with the Fair Representation coalition leaders.

1/2/2012

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