Washington's Redistricting News
Roll Call: "Between
the Lines (excerpt)." January 28, 2002
Status Quo in Seattle
Washington Gov. Gary Locke (D) signed a redistricting plan last week that tinkers little with the existing map, which was good news for freshman Rep. Rick Larsen (D).
Specifically, the map - drawn by a five-member commission of two Democrats, two Republicans and a non-voting chairman - leaves Larsen's 2nd district with a hair's breadth 0.9 percent advantage for Democrats. The district, which stretches from the Seattle suburbs to the Canadian border, currently has a 1 percent edge.
"The [commission] really did stay true to the nature of the existing districts. There weren't any drastic changes,"said Larsen spokeswoman Charla Neuman.
Washington's new legislative and congressional district boundaries now have Olympia's seal of approval, and barring a court challenge, they'll be used for the fall elections.
Although few incumbents are threatened and neither party can point to a direct victory in the redistricting process, the new maps do make significant boundary changes to reflect the state's population growth of 1 million over the past decade.
Gov. Gary Locke yesterday signed emergency legislation, lifting a legal cloud that had threatened to shift the map-drawing to the state Supreme Court.
After the citizen Redistricting Commission missed the Dec. 15 deadline for approving the new maps, the Legislature rushed through a bill to change the statutory deadline to coincide with a more lenient Jan. 1 deadline set by the state constitution.
Washington lawmakers have moved quickly to lift the legal cloud from the state's newly drawn legislative and congressional districts.
The House yesterday approved and sent Gov. Gary Locke a retroactive fix that declares that it was legal for a citizen redistricting commission to have kept working after the deadline came and went.
It was the first bill to pass the new session.
Attorney General Christine Gregoire had suggested the legislation, Senate Bill 6296, as a way to validate the commission's work, rather than face the likelihood of a court challenge.
Gregoire, pleased that lawmakers made it their first item of business, said the bill should put the new districts on a sound legal footing. Locke is expected to sign the measure without delay.
The commission, two Democrats and two Republicans representing the four legislative caucuses, missed the Dec. 15 deadline set by state law for approving the new boundaries, but met the Jan. 1 deadline set by the state constitution.
Washington lawmakers have moved quickly to lift the legal cloud from the state's newly drawn legislative and congressional districts.
The House on Wednesday approved and sent Gov. Gary Locke a retroactive fix that declares that it was legal for a citizen redistricting commission to have kept working after the deadline came and went.
It was the first bill to pass the new session.
Attorney General Christine Gregoire had suggested the legislation, Senate Bill 6296, as a way to validate the commission's work, rather than face the likelihood of a court challenge. Gregoire, pleased that lawmakers made it their first item of business, said the bill should put the new districts on a sound legal footing.
Locke is expected to sign the measure without delay.
The commission, two Democrats and two Republicans representing the four legislative caucuses, missed the Dec. 15 deadline set by state law for approving the new boundaries, but met the Jan. 1 deadline set by the state Constitution.
The panel adopted a legislative plan during the wee hours of Dec. 16, missing the deadline only so they could double-check all of the numbers and boundary lines.
They had originally planned to stop work on the congressional districts, but eventually resumed negotiations. The commission adopted the new congressional maps on New Year's Day, 17 days after the statutory deadline.
The 1983 constitutional amendment that took the Legislature out of the process set Jan. 1 as the deadline. So the commission's action was, as Chairman Graham Johnson put it, constitutional but not legal without the Legislature's fix.
The commission turned to the state's top lawyer for advice on how to proceed. The two main ideas were to ask the state Supreme Court to sign off on the plans or to ask the Legislature to pass a law changing the statutory deadline to coincide with the constitutional deadline.
Gregoire concluded the latter strategy was best and got legislative leaders to agree. The bill says the deadline change is "remedial and curative" and will apply retroactively.
During House debate Wednesday, Majority Leader Lynn Kessler, D-Hoquiam, said the commission worked diligently and came up with bipartisan plans that won unanimous approval. Although the Legislature can't make any major changes in those plans, it does remain lawmakers' obligation to remove the legal cloud, she said.
The only voice of opposition was Rep. Gigi Talcott, R-Tacoma, who said it could set a dangerous precedent to start rewriting state laws so they retroactively change the rules.
The measure passed 93-3, with Talcott and Democratic Reps. Mike Cooper and Aaron Reardan opposed and Reps. Ed Murray and Jim Dunn absent. The Senate vote on Monday was equally strong.
In an earlier letter to Chief Justice Gerry Alexander, Gregoire told the court it now seems unnecessary for the justices to get involved.
The court is responsible for redistricting if the citizen commission cannot produce a plan.
In an earlier interview, Ethan Moreno, the commission executive director, said he's comfortable with the Legislature's fix, and thinks it will work.
Redistricting is required once every decade to redraw boundaries so political districts contain nearly identical populations. Using the latest U.S. Census figures, commissioners were directed to draw nine congressional districts of about 650,000 people each and 49 legislative districts with about 120,000 people apiece.
The state's population grew by 1 million during the 1990s, with growth concentrated unevenly.
Legislative leaders are poised to legitimize two legally flawed redistricting plans during the 2002 session, Attorney General Christine Gregoire said in a letter sent Wednesday to the state Supreme Court.
"The reality is the Redistricting Commission kept working beyond Dec. 15 and bore fruit," incoming House Speaker Frank Chopp said Wednesday. "We should recognize that and move forward."
Lawmakers would reset the legal deadline for the commission to approve redistricting plans to Jan. 1, 2002. That is the date the citizen commission finally approved a new map for the state's nine congressional districts.
Commissioners also approved a map for the 49 legislative districts early on Dec. 16 -- hours after a statutory deadline passed.
The Legislature had set the earlier deadline last year, hoping to speed the process and give participants a break for the holidays. Ironically, the final work to hammer out a congressional plan came during the holidays.
Gregoire and Chopp said lawmakers of both parties agreed to quick action.
"Indeed I'm hopeful that this legislation will be the first order of business because of the importance and time sensitivity of this matter. For these reasons we believe it will be unnecessary for the Supreme Court to adopt a redistricting plan," Gregoire wrote to Chief Justice Gerry Alexander.
Under a 1983 constitutional amendment approved by voters, the redistricting job is given to a five-member commission with a nonvoting chairman, two Republicans and two Democrats.
But if the commission can't meet its obligation, which is to equalize the populations in political districts, the job goes to the state Supreme Court.
"Redistricting is never easy. ... We feel this is a decent step forward and a chance to get things done,'' Chopp said.
"I think we're all pleased to have the legal issue removed as soon as possible," Republican commissioner Dick Derham, a retired Seattle lawyer, said of Gregoire's belief the matter will be settled. "To the extent that my legal opinion is important, I agree with her.''
Top state lawmakers have promised to act quickly to lift a legal cloud from newly -- but tardily -- redrawn boundaries for Washington's congressional and legislative districts.
The bipartisan Redistricting Commission had missed the state's Dec. 15 deadline for reshaping districts to reflect population changes, and some feared the state Supreme Court would be forced to resolve the thorny political question.
But state Attorney General Christine Gregoire yesterday told the court that legislative leaders have agreed to a solution. They will ask the Legislature, which convenes Monday, to pass a law retroactively changing the deadline for adopting new boundaries. The makeup of a district can influence which political party wins it.
"The leadership of the Legislature has agreed to seek early enactment of this legislative change," Gregoire said in a letter to Chief Justice Gerry Alexander. "Indeed, I am hopeful that this legislation will be the first order of business because of the importance and time sensitivity of this matter."
The state Constitution sets a Jan. 1 deadline for Washington's citizen Redistricting Commission to adopt a plan for redrawing congressional and legislative districts. But a state law passed in 1995 advanced the deadline to Dec. 15.
The two Democrats and two Republicans on the bipartisan commission failed to agree on new boundaries for the 49 legislative districts until early Dec. 16.
And they didn't approve a plan for the nine congressional districts until Jan. 1. Under that plan, about 1 million of the state's 5.9 million residents will be represented in Congress by someone else.
For example, thousands of North King County voters would shift from Rep. Jay Inslee's 1st District to the more liberal Seattle district of Rep. Jim McDermott.
The commission asked Gregoire to find a solution to the problem. Narda Pierce, the state solicitor general, said Gregoire received assurances of speedy legislative action from the four top lawmakers.
Changing the deadline back to Jan. 1, as it existed before 1995, and making the legislation retroactive would legitimize the commission's work -- no doubt to the great relief of the Supreme Court. The Constitution says if the commission fails to complete its work on time, redistricting becomes the job of the Supreme Court, which most observers think wouldn't want that highly political chore.
"In my judgment," Gregoire wrote to Alexander, "legislative action to address the difference between the statutory timeline and the constitutional timeline for adoption of a redistricting plan is the best course."
The attorney general noted, however, that March 1 is the statutory deadline for the Supreme Court to adopt a plan if the commission has failed to act in time. So the Legislature must act quickly, Gregoire said.
Supreme Court Commissioner Geoffrey Crooks said the nine justices are likely to discuss Gregoire's letter at a meeting today. Districts are supposed to be equal in population and are redrawn every 10 years to reflect population changes measured by the U.S. Census.
The 2002 Legislature and the state Supreme Court must finish the work started by the Washington State Redistricting Commission. The redistricting commission failed to meet a Dec. 15 deadline for redrawing congressional and legislative district boundaries.
The commission's failure means legislators must amend the state law to accommodate the actual dates when the four commissioners were able to reach agreement on the boundaries.
Failing legislative action, the state Supreme Court could simply adopt the new boundaries agreed upon by commissioners.
The longer-range solution is to give all five members of the redistricting commission an equal vote. That will give the four partisan commissioners an incentive to compromise and get their work done in a timely fashion.
In 1983, Washington voters passed a constitutional amendment that took the redistricting process out of the hands of state lawmakers and put it into the hands of four appointed commissioners.
Democrats in the Legislature select two commissioners, and Republican lawmakers select the other two. The four then appoint a fifth, nonvoting chairman whose job is to steer the commission toward compromise. If commissioners fail to reach agreement, the issue goes to the state Supreme Court for resolution.
The deadline for having new boundary maps as set by the constitutional amendment is Jan. 1. The Legislature adopted a state law moving the deadline to Dec. 15.
Redistricting commissioners got off to a good start in 2001, holding public hearings across the state to listen to the wishes and guidance of voters. Commissioners traded various proposals but then got bogged down in partisan maneuvering, and when the Dec. 15 deadline hit, commissioners came up empty.
The next day, at 4:25 a.m., commissioners were able to agree on new legislative district boundaries. But the legitimacy of the legislative map is in question because the vote came more than four hours after the deadline.
Commissioners finally came up with new congressional district boundaries -- again on a unanimous vote -- Jan. 1.
The legitimacy of the congressional boundaries is questionable, too, because the vote came two weeks after the deadline set in state law.
The issues were complex and politically charged. The balance of power in the Legislature and the makeup of the state's congressional district are influenced by the boundaries of the various districts.
While they failed to meet the deadline, commissioners deserve credit for keeping Olympia in the 3rd Congressional District -- one bone of contention between Democrats and Republicans on the commission.
It is frustrating that commissioners were able to come to unanimous agreement beyond the Dec. 15 deadline. That means they could have compromised before the deadline but failed to do so.
Now it's up to the Legislature and the Supreme Court to finish the task and put the agreed upon legislative and congressional district boundaries in place.
Redistricting, Part Deux
When the state Redistricting Commission seemingly ended its run last month without agreeing on new boundaries for Washington's nine congressional districts, it looked as though the intensely partisan fight would shift to the studiously nonpartisan state Supreme Court for the first time.
But 17 days after their legal deadline passed, citizen commissioners unexpectedly sputtered to life again and managed to pull a plan, and their reputations, out of the fire.
Presuming their solution holds up under judicial scrutiny, that is.
It wasn't pretty and it wasn't on time, but commissioners may well have been successful in the only goal they really cared about -- redrawing the state's legislative and congressional boundaries for the next decade, starting with this fall's elections.
The commission had been lambasted by the state's media for tardiness, rampant partisanship, wasting tax dollars, stubbornness and other sins. This column once suggested they'd embarrassed themselves by doing "a royal bellyflop," since they had failed to pass congressional boundaries at all and were a day late in creating legislative districts.
But a breakthrough on New Year's Day showed that reports of their demise were premature. It's true that nothing rehabilitates more than a little unexpected success. They won't be winning any Olympic medals on style points, but they can at least appear in public now.
Their new maps, which shift perhaps a million or more residents into new districts because of huge population shifts through the 1990s, still face an uncertain legal future. But the success in overtime ended any talk of the Legislature taking back the sticky political chore of redistricting.
Redistricting expert Richard Morrill, expressing Olympia insiders' mixed reaction of exasperation and relief, said, "It looks like they did a good job. I just don't know why they didn't do it in the first place!"
Poodle Dog and Johnny's
In the wee hours of Dec. 16, while weary commissioners were waiting for the computer geeks to double-check their legislative plan, the two Democrats suggested the panel keep working on a congressional map. No dice, the Republicans said. The deadline is past and the commission's work is through, they said.
(The backstory is that Republicans felt like they had given far more than the Democrats, including some dramatic last-minute concessions. GOP analysts figure the Republicans had less to lose in letting the whole thing go to the courts.)
But both parties and the state's congressional delegation hammered them to restart negotiations and avoid sending it to the high court, where anything could happen. Eventually Republican Commissioner Dick Derham of Seattle and Democrat Dean Foster of Olympia agreed to at least talk it over.
They met halfway between their homes, in Fife. Enjoying down-home, comfort-food meals at the Poodle Dog and Johnny's, Fife restaurants, they agreed to keep working and eventually managed to negotiate their differences away.
The final plan looked remarkably like the existing lines, Foster said. All nine incumbents were left in their home districts. The plan maintains the basic calculus of Democratic supremacy in the 6th district, which includes Tacoma, Bremerton and the Olympic Peninsula, and Seattle's 7th district, Republicans' lock on the 4th and 5th in Eastern Washington, a GOP edge in the Bellevue-based 8th, and the competitive nature of the rest.
Democrats backed away from their efforts to "pack" Republicans into the 6th and 7th and agreed to make the surrounding districts more competitive for the Republicans. The GOP yielded to the Democrats' demand that Olympia stay in the 3rd and Everett in the 2nd.
Democrats were satisfied, since it leaves them in position to re-elect all six of their incumbents. Washington almost always re-elects incumbents, with a change of party usually occurring when there is an open seat.
Republicans were satisfied, because they protected their three incumbents and got more competitive in other districts, most notably the 2nd and 3rd. Those are the districts they see as their most logical spots to pick off an incumbent.
Late and later
Foster and Derham shook hands on their plan Dec. 30. Commissioners Bobbi Krebs-McMullen and John Giese and commission Director Ethan Moreno were quickly summoned from vacations in Mexico, British Columbia and New York, respectively.
On New Year's Day, the deadline mentioned in the state Constitution, the panel gathered in its cramped meeting room near the Capitol, and in less than 10 minutes, the plan was adopted unanimously.
Whereas the Dec. 16 meeting was full of apologies, regret and blaming, this holiday gathering had an air of celebration, without a trace of self-flagellation for missing deadlines.
But it ain't a done deal.
It's true that they met the constitutional deadline, but they missed the tighter Dec. 15 deadline created by state law a decade ago. The legislative plan was one day late, and the congressional map was 17 days overdue.
That's the legal cloud.
And nobody knows for sure how to guarantee that the commission's plan goes into effect.
The most likely path seems to be asking the state Supreme Court to give its stamp of approval, in essence adopting it as its own plan so there is no doubt that the Constitution has been followed.
"It would be very strange for them not to simply accept the plan," said Morrill, the University of Washington professor who drew the lines for the state in 1972.
"The assumption would be that the group responsible for redistricting be given every opportunity to work, and that even if they were late, they met the Jan. 1 deadline," he said.
Another idea would be for the 2002 Legislature to retroactively move the legal deadline to the constitutional deadline of Jan. 1. Absent a legal challenge, that route apparently would avoid the high court's involvement.
But key lawmakers say they don't the idea of re-inserting themselves in the process and changing the rules after the game has been played. They don't rule out the fix, but most say it's not likely.
Looking to 2011
Commissioners already are talking about possible changes to help the 2011 commission. Suggestions include getting an earlier start, considering legislative and congressional plans at separate times rather than simultaneously, moving deadlines later, and devising a formula for determining the partisan characteristics of census tracts.
So far, no one has proposed giving the nonvoting chairman the right to break ties. That would change the whole system, which forces bipartisan cooperation, and both parties would hold out and try to court the chairman's vote, said Foster.
Somewhat obscured by all the attention to the deadlines and preliminary failures is that the plans are remarkably good, says Morrill. Most voters will be in their same districts and few incumbents were disturbed, he noted.
"To make everyone relatively happy is an achievement that is very hard to believe," he said. "It certainly doesn't happen hardly anywhere else in the country.
"I think people should be assured that the process actually works."
Considering that Washington gained a million new residents and some district populations were badly skewed, the panel came close to perfection in creating equally sized new districts.
In the congressional maps, for instance, the 6th, 7th and 9th districts have perfect populations of 654,902 people and no other district is more than four people away from the ideal number.
Washington's citizen Redistricting Commission staggered to the finish line Tuesday, unanimously agreeing to a new map for the state's nine congressional districts two weeks after the deadline set by state law.
The plan gives Lacey the biggest change in South Sound political boundaries.
If the plan passes legal muster, Lacey residents would switch congressional districts for the fall elections.
They would cast their ballots in the 9th Congressional District of U.S. Rep. Adam Smith, a Tacoma Democrat, rather than their 3rd District standby, U.S. Rep. Brian Baird, a Vancouver Democrat.
But most of relatively liberal Olympia would remain in the 3rd District, which Baird had hoped for.
"Clearly," Republican commissioner John Giese said, "our legal standing is not certain at this point.''
Redistricting commissioner Bobbi Krebs-McMullen, a Democrat, said she was "guardedly hopeful" the plan will pass legal muster.
The congressional plan, along with a legislative plan adopted a few hours after the legal deadline on Dec. 16, appears headed to the state Supreme Court.
Commissioners agreed they would ask the state Attorney General's Office for advice on how to push their plan to the next step, which is likely to the state Supreme Court.
Under a 1983 constitutional amendment ratified by voters, Washington became one of a handful of states that took the redistricting job out of the hands of the Legislature and gave it to a citizen commission.
States must adjust their congressional and legislative boundaries after each U.S. census.
Under state law, a failure by the commission to pass a plan sends the job of equalizing populations in the political districts to the state Supreme Court.
Plan might pass review
One reason for optimism by commissioners is that the Dec. 15 deadline was written into law by the Legislature, and lawmakers returning to session on Jan. 14 could rewrite the deadline favorably for both plans.
"Both parts of the plan have been adopted today, Jan. 1," which is the constitutional deadline for doing the job, said Bill Collins, a senior assistant attorney general advising the commission.
Alternatively, the Supreme Court could accept the plans.
Chief Justice Gerry Alexander has indicated the court already has begun discussing how to handle the situation, which could include appointing a special master to decide the boundaries.
However, commissioners hope they made the court's work easier.
They said Tuesday that they put together a good, fair plan that gave neither the Republicans nor the Democrats an unfair advantage in congressional elections.
Democrats now are in control of six of nine seats, and the 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 9th congressional districts were considered swing districts before the redistricting.
Republican commissioner Dick Derham and Democrat Dean Foster both regard those districts as winnable by either party under their compromise.
It was Derham and Foster who brokered Tuesday's plan, meeting five times since the commission's Dec. 16 meltdown to look for common ground.
They met in Fife, a "symbolic" midpoint between Foster's Olympia home and Derham's Seattle home on Queen Anne Hill, Foster said.
Although members of the state's congressional delegation did urge them to complete their work, the final plan was the commission's own work, Foster said.
In the big picture, the boundaries look a lot like those of the 1991-92 commission, Foster said.
The plan features these key concessions:
Part of Everett was split off from the Democratic-leaning 2nd District and put with the 1st District which includes Bainbridge Island. Lacey was split off the Democratic-leaning 3rd District and moved into the 9th District, along with a strip of Olympia's northeast side. The plan also makes these changes in the state's political landscape:
-The Microsoft campus in Redmond would split into both the 1st and 8th districts.
-Bremerton voters would find themselves in the 6th District.
-Some voters in Klickitat County would move into the 4th District.
-Grays Harbor voters all will be in the 6th District.
-Tacoma voters would be split into the 6th or 9th districts.
-Okanogan County would move into the 5th District with Spokane and out of the 4th District.
Despite these changes, Derham and Foster estimated that fewer than one in four voters statewide will move to a new district.
Giese and Krebs-McMullen said technology had helped them be more precise in their boundaries and decisions, but they said the computers also complicated their work by producing more data to consider.
Commissioners will return to Olympia at 1 p.m. Jan. 10 to consider their final report, which could include informal recommendations by individual commissioners to set separate deadlines for the legislative and congressional plans.
Doing both simultaneously proved difficult and distracting, commissioners said.
Sixteen days after the official deadline, the state's redistricting commissioners finally have a plan for new congressional districts.
The four voting commissioners ó two Democrats and two Republicans ó will vote on the plan today at a special New Year's Day meeting in Olympia. The new districts will reflect population shifts and growth since 1990.
The commissioners were supposed to redraw legislative- and congressional-redistricting maps by midnight Dec. 15. They approved a legislative map about 4:30 a.m. Dec. 16, but agreement on the congressional districts eluded them.
"Everyone had a chance to take a deep, long breath," said Republican commissioner Richard Derham, who worked on the map over the holidays with Democratic commissioner Dean Foster. Both said yesterday they strongly hope the two other commissioners, who have been out of the country until recently, will approve the new map today.
Foster said the new map "looks remarkably like the districts that exist today."
Although the deadline has passed, the vote is still significant. The matter will go to the state Supreme Court, and conventional wisdom is the court, reluctant to meddle in politics, will approve the maps.
"Better late than never," said U.S. Rep. Norm Dicks, D-Bremerton, who along with U.S. Rep. Jennifer Dunn, R-Bellevue, encouraged the commissioners to keep working.
Dicks said he's optimistic the other commissioners ó Republican appointee John Giese and Democratic appointee Bobbi Krebs-McMullen ó will approve the plan Derham and Foster created.
Some changes were needed to accommodate growing areas of the state.
The fate of Olympia and Everett was a sticking point in the negotiations. Democrats wanted to keep Olympia in the 3rd District, represented by Democrat Brian Baird, and Everett in the 2nd District, represented by Democrat Rick Larsen.
They got what they wanted, with some compromise. Most of Everett remains in the 2nd District under the current plan, Derham said, while Mukilteo and Monroe are split between the 1st, represented by Democrat Jay Inslee, and 2nd Districts.
To the south, most of Olympia remains in the 3rd District, said Derham, with Yelm and most of Lacey going to the 9th District, represented by Democrat Adam Smith. Thurston County is split between the 3rd and the 9th Districts.
Gray's Harbor County, which has been divided between the 3rd and the 6th Districts, is fully in Dicks' 6th District under the new plan. Derham said residents asked commissioners to unify the county. Bremerton, which also used to be split, is wholly placed in the 6th District.
The Microsoft campus in Redmond is split between two districts in the new plan. Historically, it has been in the 1st District. The new plan puts half of Microsoft's headquarters in the 8th District, represented by Dunn.
Derham said a purely data-based redrawing of the map lines would have put all of Microsoft in Dunn's district, but he and Foster agreed that because the 1st District has always represented Microsoft's home it would be good to keep some continuity.
The commissioners agreed on maps for Eastern Washington early on, so there weren't many changes there. The 4th District, represented by Republican Richard "Doc" Hastings of Pasco, will expand to include all of Klickitat County, while the 5th District, represented by Republican George Nethercutt of Spokane, gets all of Okanogan County.
Redistricting happens every 10 years to redraw the legislative and congressional boundaries according to census data. According to the census, Washington grew by about 1 million people, to nearly 6 million, from 1990 to 2000. Commissioners were directed to draw nine congressional districts of about 650,000 people each and 49 legislative districts with about 120,000 people apiece.
The state constitution sets Jan. 1 as the deadline for redistricting. The Legislature set its deadline a little earlier, Dec. 15.
There's a chance the Legislature could retroactively push back its deadline to Jan. 1; in that case the new boundaries would become legal if the commissioners approve them today.
But legislative leaders are reluctant to do that. The matter will likely go to the state Supreme Court, which is expected to approve any plans upon which the commission can agree.