Washington's Redistricting News
"Democrats Win Statewide, but District Lines Limit Local Victories."
October 15, 2001
Al Gore carried Washington handily. Gary Locke twice won the governor's mansion easily. Democrats hold both of Washington's U.S. Senate seats and six of nine spots in the House. So why is the Legislature deadlocked, with Republicans holding only one seat fewer than Democrats?
The answer lies in the lines on the map that have defined lawmakers' districts since 1992. Democrats argue those lines pack their loyalists into too few districts. Republicans shrug and point out their foes naturally congregate in cities.
First, the numbers. In the 2000 election, Democrats in the Legislature had an average margin of victory over Republican opponents of more than 27 percent, compared to about 22 percent for Republicans.
Fifteen Democrats had such safe seats that no Republican bothered to challenge them, compared to only 11 such safe slots for GOP candidates. But when the dust settled, the GOP had picked up two seats in the Senate and maintained the tie in the House.
Berendt: Lines don't accurately reflect state
For Washington Democratic Party Chairman Paul Berendt, the contrast is an indictment of the way the state's legislative districts are redrawn after the census every 10 years.
"It's not a reflection of how Democratic or how Republican the state is," Berendt said. "There are more Democrats that are packed into the Democratic districts than there are Republicans packed into the Republican districts."
Unlike many states where redistricting is a bitterly partisan process controlled by the majority in the Legislature, Washington has a rigidly bipartisan redistricting commission made up of two Democrats and two Republicans. At least three members of the panel have to sign off on the final plan.
The system was approved by voters in 1983 after a particularly nasty redistricting fight. This year's round of redistricting marks the second time a commission has divvied up the state.
Because of its precise balance, the panel tends to protect incumbents, divide safe seats evenly between the parties, and leave the remaining seats competitive. That helped control of the Legislature shift wildly in the 1990s, from overwhelmingly Democratic after the 1992 election to an outright Republican majority after the 1996 vote to the current deadlock with a 49-49 tie in the house and 25-24 majority for the Democrats in the Senate.
Berendt blames the precarious balance on too many Democrats packed into too few districts.
"What the redistricting commission does is they basically cut the baby right up the middle," Berendt said.
Theoretically, the map could be redrawn so the Democratic votes are more widely dispersed, spreading the party's influence and giving it more chance to win an outright advantage.
For example, wealthy and mostly Republican Mercer Island has traditionally been lumped with Bellevue, a similar GOP enclave. Berendt argues that it should instead be grouped with Seattle, where Democrats dominate.
But from a Republican standpoint, what Berendt proposes is essentially illegal gerrymandering -- manipulating district lines for political advantage.
"What the Democrats would love to do if the process would allow it is to cheat," said Chris Vance, the chairman of the Washington Republican Party.
Vance: GOP needs to win back suburbs
Vance calls the Democratic density a function of American politics. "That's how American politics works. Democrats are clustered into cities," he said.
The constraints of the redistricting commission aside, the state Constitution calls for districts to be compact, convenient and separated by geographical barriers or political boundaries such as city limits.
But even with Democrats clustered in cities, Vance concedes his party is losing ground in its traditional stronghold -- the suburbs.
"The Democrats have been winning more and more races in the suburbs," Vance said. "We need to dominate the suburbs in order to be the majority party in this state."
Pollster: Where the parties live a mystery
Washington voters don't register by party, so there's no way to really know how many Republicans and how many Democrats live within its borders. But pollster Stuart Elway cautions against either party assuming it's the majority.
"The fact is the voters of the state of Washington got exactly the Legislature they voted for, which is tied," Elway said.
Elway's surveys consistently indicate that about 30 percent of Washingtonians consider themselves Democrats, another 30 percent think of themselves as Republicans, and 40 percent are independents.
Of 5.5 million votes cast for state Senate and state House candidates last year, Democrats had an advantage of just 132,729 votes, or about 2.4 percent, Elway said.
Democrats have won statewide races in recent years by running moderates like Locke and Cantwell, while Republicans have backed conservatives like talk-radio host John Carlson. Meanwhile, GOP moderates such as Secretary of State Sam Reed have done fine.
"If the Democrats think that if they got unstacked that they would have 60 seats in the house, I think that they're mistaken," Elway said.
Washington state could face a federal lawsuit if its legislative redistricting dilutes the voting power of racial and ethnic minorities in South Seattle and in Central Washington, a minority voting-rights coalition has warned.
Yvonne Kinoshita Ward, a leader of the group, told the state Redistricting Commission at a Seattle hearing last night that in a legal context, "race becomes an issue of great importance if a redistricting plan reduces 'majority-minority'" state legislative districts -- those in which all racial minorities together constitute a majority of the residents.
Another coalition member, Tony Orange, said the U.S. Supreme Court has held that if existing majority-minority districts are diluted, that would invoke the federal Voting Rights Act.
Orange, executive director of the state commission on African American Affairs, was one in a parade of minority advocates who addressed the commission. More than 70 people signed up to testify.
The hearing at North Seattle Community College was one of three -- and the only one in the Puget Sound area -- being held by the bipartisan Redistricting Commission to take public testimony on disparate proposals for redrawing Washington's nine congressional and 49 legislative districts to reflect a decade's population shifts.
The commission's two Democratic and two Republican members have drawn separate, competing redistricting plans. It has until Dec. 15 to agree on a plan acceptable to at least three of the four voting members.
Ward and other members of Citizens Unity Map Coalition focused their testimony on proposals they said could dilute the predominantly minority populations of South Seattle's 11th Legislative District and the Yakima Valley's 14th and 15th districts.
The coalition -- representing Asian, African American, Hispanic and other minority groups -- hired a redistricting expert to draft a plan they said would retain "majority-minority" populations in the 11th District, as well as in the 37th District in Southeast Seattle, which adjoins the 11th. They also want to create a majority-minority district in the 15th.
Ward said the commissioners' proposals generally protect the majority-minority status of the 37th but threaten to dilute that of the 11th by moving it south and east into less predominantly minority areas.
Proposed plans of three of the four commissioners would remove Rep. Velma Veloria, a Filipina, from the district. But the commissioners have said that because the 11th and other Seattle legislative districts grew more slowly than the state as a whole during the 1990s, all must be enlarged by pushing them out of the city and farther into the suburbs.
Dick Derham, a Republican redistricting commissioner and a Seattle lawyer who has studied the potential impact of the Voting Rights Act on redistricting, has expressed skepticism about whether the act would be likely to apply to Washington's efforts. But he and other commissioners have sought to work with the minority coalition.
Ward and other coalition members emphasized that the unity plan wasn't based on race, but on common interests such as civil rights, health care needs, social service needs and income levels in determining the communities of interest they said should be considered in drawing the legislative districts.
State Rep. Kirk Pearson sees the handwriting on the map.
It doesn't look good for the Monroe Republican's political future, the way his 39th Legislative District is being redrawn by the state Redistricting Commission. He may have to choose between giving up his House seat or giving up the home where five generations of Pearsons have lived.
If it's any consolation, the commission is threatening Pearson with political oblivion in a bipartisan manner. Both Republican commissioners as well as both Democratic commissioners have suggested erasing his neighborhood, if not all of Monroe, from the 39th Legislative District in eastern Snohomish County.
Other incumbent legislators also face potential political extermination as the commission attempts to redraw the state's congressional and legislative district boundaries to reflect population shifts of the past decade. But only in Pearson's case do all four voting commissioners propose separating a legislator from his district.
The commissioners say it's nothing personal, just that reconfiguring the districts makes some unavoidable winners and losers. It's particularly hard to prevent Pearson from losing, because the 39th was Washington's second-fastest-growing legislative district during the 1990s. That population gain means the boundaries must shrink.
Most adjoining districts grew almost as fast and must get smaller. Changing the shape and location of one district affects the shape and location of those surrounding it.
Each of the four partisan commissioners last month unveiled competing proposals for reshaping the state's political boundaries, a first step in the effort to negotiate a final plan by a Dec. 15 deadline.
Commissioner Dick Derham, a Republican, refers to the challenge faced by the commission as "the tyranny of the numbers" -- the legal necessity of redrawing nine congressional districts having populations approximating 654,902 each, and 49 legislative districts having populations approximating 120,288 each.
Pearson is serving his first term in the House and would like to run for re-election. But he doesn't want to move to remain in a reconfigured 39th District.
He and his family live on Pearson Lane, named after his grandfather. Close by are the homes of his parents, a brother and a nephew, all on the grandfather's original homestead.
"My roots run pretty deep in Monroe," the legislator said. "When you think of moving, that's kind of difficult. I have one son who's looking forward to playing football at the high school."
Two of the four legislative redistricting proposals would put all four House members from the 39th District and adjoining 44th District into the latter, setting up the possibility of the four incumbents -- two Democrats and two Republicans -- running against one another for the two seats.
Any change in the 39th District could alter its fragile political makeup. It's considered a "swing" district, one that elects both Democrats and Republicans. Pearson won by only 298 votes last year.
Three of the four Redistricting Commission members have submitted draft plans that would also redistrict Pearson's Democratic seatmate, Rep. Hans Dunshee of Snohomish, out of the 39th, putting him into either the 44th or the 5th District. Dunshee doesn't intend to move, either.
"If I end up in a district that is hugely Republican, I might go become a teacher," said Dunshee, a small business owner.
Equally threatened are both House members from South Seattle's 11th District. Three of the four commissioners propose reshaping that district to remove the West Seattle neighborhood of Eileen Cody and the Beacon Hill neighborhood of Velma Veloria. Both are Democrats.
Redistricting commissioner Dean Foster, a Democrat, said Cody's and Veloria's problem is that "they live right on the edges of their present district, one on the east and one on the west. So if you make any changes at all, they're likely to be affected just because of where they live."
The 11th, like most Seattle-area districts, has the opposite problem of the 39th: It grew slower than the state as a whole and must become larger, pushing partway out of the city and into suburban neighborhoods that may be less racially diverse.
The prospect of removing Veloria, a Filipino American, from the 11th District angers members of the Citizens Unity Map Coalition. The organization of racial and ethnic minority groups hired a consultant to draw a redistricting plan that tries to increase minority representation in the Legislature by consolidating minorities in several districts.
One of their targets was the 11th District, which currently is predominantly non-white, but which several of the redistricting plans would turn into a white-majority district.
The adjoining 37th District, mostly in southeast Seattle, also has a large minority population and two Asian American House members. Yvonne Kinoshita Ward, an organizer of the minority coalition, said the commissioners "didn't do terribly badly with the 37th. What they did was, in the process of butchering the 11th, they packed the 37th" with additional minorities from the 11th.
Ward's coalition had a large contingent at a commission hearing in Centralia Monday night and plans to have even more at tonight's hearing.
Although the Redistricting Commission's two Democrats and two Republicans are each out to protect the interests of their respective parties, neither side can sabotage the other's incumbents because any plan requires approval by three of the four.
"We're not on there to undo the elections" by removing incumbents, said Foster, echoing what each of the commissioners has said at one time or another.
Because bipartisan cooperation is necessary for a final plan, Foster said he was relieved that in the four competing sets of redistricting plans, "nobody started a war on incumbent displacement. That's what's really important."
Still, each political party's leaders are wary of machinations by the opposition's redistricting commissioners.
In congressional redistricting, the two Democratic commissioners propose moving affluent, Republican-leaning Mercer Island from Republican Rep. Jennifer Dunn's Eastside 8th District to Democratic Rep. Jim McDermott's liberal, Seattle-based 7th District.
State Republican Chairman Chris Vance said the Democrats' aim is "to spread Seattle Democrat votes out into the suburbs as far as possible" to help protect suburban Democratic congressional incumbents.
Similarly, the Republican commissioners propose removing Democratic Olympia from the southwest Washington 3rd Congressional District of Rep. Brian Baird, a Democrat who needs every Democratic vote he can get. They would add part or all of Olympia to the Tacoma and Olympic Peninsula 6th District of Democratic Rep. Norm Dicks, who is politically more secure.
State Democratic Chairman Paul Berendt said that plan is "outrageous."
The redistricting commissioners, meanwhile, are trying to avoid being drawn into public political wars. Foster said nothing is unacceptable to him ... yet. "What's unacceptable is making rash statements," he said.
Washington's once-a-decade ritual of redrawing political boundaries is in full swing, showing every sign that it will perpetuate the state's political drift.
It's not that the citizen Redistricting Commission members are wimps. Rather, the bipartisan process created by the voters is custom-designed to create close elections in competitive districts that swing back and forth between the two parties. The ultimate example is the 49-49 tie in the state House, two elections in a row.
This underscores the bigger story arc: Washington has no majority party, the Legislature is tied up and timid, and voters are sticking with incumbents, mostly centrists, and then using citizen initiatives to circumscribe their power.
Divided control has become the rule rather than the exception, sometimes making it tough to get anything done and adding a layer of instability and unpredictability to a process that is already difficult, analysts say.
For red-meat partisans, it's irritating. Both sides long for a clear majority, won after campaigns that highlight clear political differences.
For voters and candidates, though, the trend to hug the political middle and the checks and balances of the era are at least comfortably familiar. No long bombs, nothing very controversial, no new spending programs. Very '90s.
For political scientists, Washington is an intriguing textbook example of a swing state where many of the races are competitive and the parties either switch off being in charge or are forced to share power.
'So bloody even'
Stuart Elway, an independent pollster and political scientist who has watched Washington politics for 25 years, says that after a decade of the two parties taking turns in the majority, the pendulum has ended up right in the middle.
"It's dead even. It's just astounding," he says.
"Things are so bloody even," said Mary Lane, spokeswoman for state Republicans.
Elway added up the votes cast in all the state's legislative races last fall: a virtual tie. The 98-member House was again cursed with a 49-49 tie and the Senate couldn't get any closer -- a 25-24 Democratic edge, with one of the Democrats, maverick Tim Sheldon, sometimes giving Republicans a temporary majority.
Those tight margins reflect the average American voter's ambivalence, wedded to neither party and more than happy to split tickets, Elway says.
The White House race was basically a tie, Washington's Senate race ended in a virtual dead heat and Maria Cantwell's surprise victory in the absentees produced a 50-50 tie in the Senate. The U.S. House has only a tiny GOP margin.
"It just reflects where society is," with neither party having clear majority status and independents swinging back and forth, depending on the year, the issues and the candidates, Elway said. "Even partisans don't vote a straight ticket."
Lines in the sand
Party leaders and analysts also point to two other big reasons why political control is so uncertain and why Washington's brand of politics seems to be so middle of the road: redistricting and the blanket primary.
Unlike most states, where legislative and congressional districts are political spoils divvied up by the party in power in the Legislature and the governor's mansion, in Washington the task is delegated to a bipartisan citizen commission.
Two Democrats and two Republicans, appointed by the four legislative leaders, draw the plans. Neither side can "roll" the other side, because the maps must be approved by at least three of the four commissioners.
The forced compromise means both major parties will have an equal number of desirable, winnable districts in Congress and the Legislature, and the rest will be tossup or competitive races.
The panel went public with commissioners' draft plans last week -- and neither party had any major complaints with the other side. Commissioners said the sheer demographics and the tossup voting habits in many areas made it unexpectedly hard to draw advantageous boundaries.
"Mostly, it's subtle changes" the commissioners have proposed, said state GOP Chairman Chris Vance. "Neither side can get away with doing anything ridiculous, so they don't even try."
Still, he's wistful for the days of more sharply defined campaigns and clear majorities.
"At some point, there must be a dominant party, with a clear majority and a clear minority, for the process to work," Vance said. "We don't have that today."
Democratic state Chairman Paul Berendt is increasingly critical of the redistricting process.
"The maps are drawn up by the representatives of the four caucuses in the Legislature and have nothing to do with the geopolitical makeup of the state of Washington," he said. "Super-competitive districts across the state are not good for public policy.
"This is a huge problem if you believe in legislators working together for solutions," Berendt said. "Due to having overly competitive districts, legislators are constantly looking over their shoulders and being worried about taking tough votes because of what might be coming at them in the next election."
Both chairmen also blame milquetoast politics on the state's long tradition of the blanket primary, in which voters do not register by party and can vote for any candidate for any office.
"We have a system that encourages zigzag voting," said an exasperated Berendt. "What you get are people who are nominated who try to aim at dead center or try to stand for nothing so they can please everyone.
"No one wants to hear it, but that is a huge part of why we're in this mess."
Some changes might be afoot:
- The Democratic, Republican and Libertarian parties are in federal court, asking for abolition of the blanket primary. They rely on a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in a California case last year that seemed to doom Washington's primary system. That ruling said parties cannot be forced to allow nonmembers to help pick their nominees -- the very point of the popular blanket primary.
Lawmakers have been loath to change the system and the state hasn't given up on keeping it. But changes seem more likely than not. Berendt and Vance say freewheeling campaigns between true-blue party loyalists could get the state off dead center.
Next stop is a court hearing in March.
- Terrorist attacks on America could affect politics, campaigns and governing in significant ways, say party insiders and independent analysts, although they're not exactly sure how.
"I think Sept. 11, 2001, could be the kind of event that reshuffles and redefines American politics," Vance said.
The stock market crash of 1929, for instance, ended Republicans' devotion to pure laissez-faire economics and the attack on Pearl Harbor ended the party's isolationism, he said.
- Redistricting could unexpectedly lead to some changes in political makeup. Who knows?
Berendt predicts the commission system itself might be scrapped if the new legislative boundaries produce more ties in the House.
- Time and tides could change the picture, of course. A single state House race in Snohomish County could break the tie and give the Democrats a 50-48 edge, at least until the election next year, when Republicans think they will win one or both houses.
A reminder from recent history: The same district boundaries were used to create big Democratic majorities in 1992 and a GOP landslide just two years later. The lines aren't everything.
And these footnotes amid the gloomy assessments:
- Political scientists like Todd Donovan of Western Washington University think competitive, unpredictable races are a good thing, and keep voters engaged. Elway says it's the parties, not the voters, who are out of touch and out of the vital center.
- Some centrists, including New Democrats and Mainstream Republicans, are convinced that the best policies are to be found in the middle.
- Some optimists say it's a good thing to have all those checks and balances and to force the two parties to work together.
- And, finally, the less-government, lower-taxes crowd is perfectly happy with gridlock and do-little government.
Members of the state Redistricting Commission yesterday unveiled four competing plans for reshaping Washington's nine congressional and 49 legislative districts.
Launching the most intensive phase of the highly political redistricting process, each of the bipartisan commission's four voting members presented his or her ideal set of district boundaries.
The maps were drawn to reflect population shifts within the state between 1990 and 2000. How the districts are reshaped will help determine who gets elected, and what those lawmakers' political agendas are, for the next 10 years.
"I think all of us thought it would be a lot easier...to draw good districts than it was," said Commissioner John Giese, a Republican, after the four showed their proposals to one another for the first time.
The commission has two Democrats and two Republicans, one representing each political caucus in the state Senate and House.
Between now and Dec. 15, the deadline for redrawing districts, the four must negotiate their differences and come up with a bipartisan plan that at least three of them support.
The commissioners explained their rationales for their redistricting plans, which they said were designed to reflect the wishes of civic, political, minority and other interest groups that made proposals to the commission. The four tried to explain why no one district can be designed in isolation from all the others.
"It's easy to draw one perfect district, or at least one person's idea of a perfect district," said Commissioner Bobbi Krebs McMullen, a Democrat. "It's always the other 48 (legislative districts) that are the problem."
A coalition of racial and ethnic minority groups has proposed a redistricting plan designed to ensure that minority concentrations in four legislative districts aren't diluted.
Yvonne Kinoshita Ward, representing the coalition, said the main concerns are for Asian and African American residents of the 11th and 37th districts in the South Seattle area, and Latinos and Yakama Indians in Central Washington's 14th and 15th districts.
Some of the most painful redistricting chores will involve redesigning the fastest-growing and slowest-growing parts of the state.
Because Seattle's population, for example, grew so much more slowly than that of the state as a whole, the city must lose the equivalent of more than half of a legislative district, which means pushing some of the existing districts partway out of the city.
The heavily Democratic 7th Congressional District, covering most of Seattle and its immediate southern suburbs, must grow larger. Under the proposals of Democratic commissioners Krebs-McMullen and Dean Foster, the 7th would gain Mercer Island, now in the Republican-leaning 8th District, and also move southeast, taking in all of Renton.
Republican commissioners Giese and Dick Derham instead would push the 7th north to the Seattle city limits, giving it part of what now is in the 1st District.
The legislative district plan of Derham, who represents Senate Republicans, would remove four incumbent Democratic and one Republican House members, but no Senate incumbents, from districts in King and Snohomish counties.
Other commissioners were unsure whether their proposals would expel any incumbent legislators from their districts although Krebs-McMullen's plan apparently would take Senate Republican Leader Jim West out of his Spokane district.
Derham said the commissioners don't believe they should usurp voters' decisions by going out of their way to remove elected incumbents.
None of the proposals would remove any sitting member of Congress from his district.
Obviously, however, each commissioner will be looking out for his or her political party's incumbents and electoral prospects.
The four commissioners showed numerous differences but also some similarities in their approaches.
All, for example, said they tried to heed the complaints of local civic leaders whose communities are divided among multiple districts.
Parts of Renton, for example, now are in six legislative districts. All four commissioners presented plans that would reduce that number.
The commission will hold three public hearings on their proposals next month: in Centralia Oct. 1, Seattle Oct. 5 and Spokane Oct. 9. The Seattle hearing will be from 7 to 9 p.m. at the Student Events Center of North Seattle Community College.
In this "off-election" campaign year, the political fanfare and glitz that accompany big money elections are nowhere to be found.
There are few yard signs and even fewer campaign television or radio commercials, at least in the South Sound where most candidates are running for nonpartisan offices. And there are certainly no celebrity or presidential candidate visits, as was the case last year when the ballot was stacked with high-profile races.
But behind the scenes and away from the voters, an election process is taking place that will have more impact on the campaigns and the candidates and parties who win them than any single election year ever could. Control of the Legislature, the governor's mansion and Washington's congressional delegation lies in the balance for the decade to come.
Political strategists for Democrats and Republicans are perched in front of taxpayer-funded computers, hurriedly devising new ways to draw legislative district boundaries. With the latest population numbers in from the U.S. Census Bureau, the once-a-decade redistricting process is well under way.
It is politics in its purest form. No campaign issues get in the way, nor do the politicians themselves, for the most part. Pure strategy and eventually brokering between the parties and between the House and Senate go into the process.
"You can't take the politics out of this process, and anyone would be naive to think you could," said Ethan Moreno, executive director of the Washington State Redistricting Commission. An all-out political frenzy kicks in later this month when the first renditions of the commissioners' proposed maps - four scenarios each for congressional and legislative districts - are released. And though it is a partisan exercise, the public pays for it all.
"This is suddenly going to explode exponentially. Every politico in the state, including me, grab those things with hunger and pour over them to see what each caucus is trying to accomplish," said Chris Vance, chairman of the state Republican Party.
Legislative caucuses' strategy
The Legislature approved about $2 million in state funds for the Senate, House, Secretary of State's Office and Redistricting Commission to carry out the changes.
House Democrats and Republicans and Senate Democrats and Republicans were each given about $200,000.
Each caucus set up offices at the Capitol and bought the same set of computers and software that the commission uses. They also employ mapping and data specialists and, in some cases, campaign consultants.
Among them is Stan Shore, a Republican consultant who has worked on many Senate Republicans' campaigns and was recently in the news after it was discovered he recruited Green Party candidates in a couple of races to siphon votes from Democrats. The Senate will pay him up to $40,000 for his services.
The caucuses also have spent money buying lists of data from marketing firms to find out more information about the people they want to lump together in a given district.
They generally know what the other party is doing. But they don't know a lot of the specifics. Brad Jurkovich, who is heading the House Democrats' redistricting plan, said the caucuses have a "gentlemen's agreement" to neither ask nor tell, although all of the information is public since it is being paid for with tax dollars.
"The more he (the Democrats' redistricting guru) knows about what I'm doing, the less advantage I have," said Paul Campos, who is heading the Senate Republicans' effort.
Details of who, where
Under federal and state law, the 49 legislative districts and nine congressional districts must be as close in population as possible. State law also dictates that commissioners adopt boundaries as close as possible to current government boundaries, such as cities and counties.
Mapping new districts is like solving a brain teaser slide-the-tile-numbers-in-order puzzle. Every shift to one district's border has an effect on another. Eventually, each legislative district must have as close to 120,288 people as possible to add up to Washington's population of 5.9 million. Each congressional district is to have about 654,902 people.
But who fills up those districts is up to interpretation - and that's where the strategy kicks in.
The commission provides hundreds of columns of demographic information from the Census Bureau to the caucuses. Race, ethnicity, age, home ownership, number of children, number of registered voters, and the way they voted in any given election are among the statistics considered.
With that information, they have to decide which past races to use. What is a true indicator of a district's Republican or Democratic nature? The presidential race? The last U.S. Senate race? And how will the groups they now consider traditional allies behave in the next 10 years?
Shifting a legislative district by one city block could change the area's political makeup. For example, the Geographic Information Systems software instantly generates a new map and the percentage of voters who cast ballots for Al Gore in the last election. A separate computer screen spits out tables of updated information to show increases or decreases in the numbers of blacks or women or people who voted for Slade Gorton in 2000, for example.
In the 9th Congressional District, a seat Vance ran unsuccessfully for last year against Adam Smith, Republicans projected big wins 10 years ago. They did so because a large housing development had been planned in the district that they assumed would add votes in their favor. But the development never went up.
"Republicans thought they really suckered Democrats in the 9th District because DuPont was going to grow. Then it never happened," Vance said.
He said conventional wisdom this time around holds that Republicans will benefit as the population migrates from the inner cities to the suburbs. But Democrats, at least in the last election, have been succeeding in the suburbs.
"Just as Republicans worked hard to create Democratic ghettos - high densities of Democratic voters in city districts - in 1990, Democrats sought to have higher densities of suburban voters within single district boundaries," said Paul Berendt, chairman of the state Democratic Party. "We viewed them as hostile voters at the time. Ten years later, they don't seem like such bad people after all."
Another factor is whether to draw the districts in a way that ensures incumbents are re-elected, or take chances with more districts. Does the GOP, for example, pack districts with Republicans in 25 districts? Or do they gamble and spread out their voters in, say, 40 districts?
And sometimes it's just plain personality that drives the process. Vance said he remembers a case 10 years ago when an entire district had to be moved because a section of the eastern part of the state had lost population. They agreed to draw one particular legislator out of his district because he wasn't well liked in Olympia, Vance said.
Commission vs. Legislature
Creating the districts from which the democratic process is carried out is inherently nondemocratic, said Michael McDonald, an assistant political science professor at the University of Illinois at Springfield who studies redistricting. While anyone from the general public can take part, it's usually done by just the legislators themselves, he said, or in Washington's case, by a five-member commission.
"It's ugly because no matter what happens, inevitably ... a map is either going to favor one group over another. It's impossible to draw a nonpartisan map," he said.
When small commissions take over redistricting, they tend to draw districts that favor incumbents, McDonald said. Only a few districts remain competitive, he said. Washington's commission is the result of a 1983 movement by voters to make redistricting a more independent process. By way of a constitutional amendment, voters approved a bipartisan commission in which legislative leadership appoints two Republicans and two Democrats. The chairman is independent and cannot vote.
If the parties' commissioners cannot reach an agreement, the matter is sent to the state Supreme Court.
Anyone can submit a redistricting plan. The commission's offices in Olympia have two computers available to the public. But they've sat unused so far.
Hundreds of people have turned out though for the 16 public hearings the commission held over the summer. Mostly, they were concerned with so-called communities of interest, keeping voters in a particular school district together, for example, said Graham Johnson, the commission's chairman.
The process was designed, in short, to take some of the politics out of politics. But the people who appoint the commissioners and who then give them the redistricting plans to consider are partisan.
"I think it's pretty remarkable the process voters put into place. We still have the partisan competition but the commission is completely independent," said Jay Jennings, who is heading up the House Republicans' redistricting effort.
Berendt, the Democratic Party chairman, is not as pleased with the system, which is only being used for the second time since its inception. He said it's the commission's bipartisan nature that is to blame for a nearly evenly divided Legislature that found itself at a virtual standstill this year. The House has been split 49-49 between Democrats and Republicans for the last two elections. Democrats hold just a one-vote majority in the Senate.
"We have a state full of districts that are a reflection of the commission, not of the geopolitical makeup of the state of Washington," he said. "This was not by accident. This was by design and it was the 1990 redistricting that created this mess, and I tell you, it's going to happen again."
"They're going to cut this baby right up the middle and it won't be a reflection of the politics of this state or the cities or the geographical places."
Berendt would like to see Washington go back to the system it used two decades ago when it was up to the entire Legislature to draw the boundaries. Most other states still do it that way, McDonald said, with varying degrees of success. But inevitably, he said, it is even more political than Washington's commission process.
Jurkovich added that with the current split in the House, asking legislators to come up with the maps that could determine their political fate would have been next to impossible this year.
The commission will continue to hold public hearings until it adopts a set of maps, which are due to the Legislature on Dec. 15. The Legislature can then make only minor changes. The new boundaries will be in place for the 2002 elections.
Staff writer Beth Silver covers politics. Reach her at 360-754-6093 or [email protected].
"It's nearly unavoidable to go through this process without someone's ox getting gored." -- Paul Berendt, Democratic state chairman
"There's so much change up and down I-5 it will be hard to keep all incumbents in their districts." -- Chris Vance, Republican state chairman
For decades, the Legislature's tortured efforts to redraw their own district boundaries amounted to the political equivalent of a food fight -- or worse.
Every 10 years, after the new federal Census came out, the long knives would come out in Olympia. Redistricting would inevitably become a time-gobbling obsession -- a Wagnerian ordeal of betrayal, self-interest and partisan bloodletting.
Eventually, disgusted voters took the job away from the Legislature and governor, turning the task over to a citizen commission. It's still highly political and tends to protect incumbents, but it's scrupulously bipartisan and keeps the Legislature at arm's length.
The panel is just a month away from producing the first proposals for new congressional and legislative districts.
Fair warning: Some incumbents will need to line up a moving van, or retire. And many voters will have to adjust to different representation in Olympia and Washington, D.C. Both major parties view redistricting as vital to determining who gets the upper hand for the next decade.
Why all the fuss?
The rejiggering is mandatory so that Washington's nine congressional districts have roughly identical population -- about 650,000 apiece -- and the 49 legislative districts each have about 120,000 people.
The state grew by 1 million over the past decade, to 6 million. The growth rate varied widely from place to place, leaving some districts with far too many people and others with too few.
That means every district has to change at least somewhat. Most incumbents will be left in the bulk of their old district, but some dislocation is inevitable.
"It's nearly unavoidable to go through this process without someone's ox getting gored," said Paul Berendt, the Democratic state chairman.
"There's so much change up and down I-5 it will be hard to keep all incumbents in their districts," said his GOP counterpart, Chris Vance.
Lay of the land
Here are the broad strokes of what the new Census shows:
- The urban areas of Seattle, Tacoma and Spokane grew more slowly than the suburbs and will need less representation in Congress and the Legislature. Seattle, for instance, will lose about half a legislative district, down from about five districts.
- Populous King County will lose most of a legislative district because other areas of Western Washington grew more.
- Eastern Washington will have relatively little disruption, keeping its two congressional districts and basically the same number of legislative districts. Boundaries will edge westward a bit, probably up the Columbia Gorge, to pick up population.
- Clark County and the territory from Snohomish County north to the Canadian border grew like gangbusters and earned more clout. The 17th Legislative District, largely in eastern Clark County, now has 43,000 more people than it should, and the 39th in Snohomish County has 21,000 too many.
- The 2nd Congressional District, from Everett north to Canada, has 65,000 too many residents and will have to shrink, possibly costing Democratic incumbent Rick Larsen his home base, Everett. The 3rd District in Southwest Washington also has to shrink, since it has 43,000 too many residents. This could cost Democratic Rep. Brian Baird his base in Olympia or Grays Harbor County. Democrat Jay Inslee's 1st District could lose its territory on the west side of Puget Sound, possibly even his home turf on Bainbridge Island.
The 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 8th congressional districts need to contract because they have too much population. The 1st, 5th, 6th, 7th and 9th need more people.
In some respects, redrawing districts should be easier than 10 years ago, when the state was awarded a new congressional district and an entire legislative district was bounced from Spokane to the Seattle suburbs.
Still, the citizen commissioners have their work cut out for them. They liken the process to putting a 3-D jigsaw puzzle together, or perhaps dominoes falling. Once one district expands or contracts to be the right size, the adjacent districts all have to change, even if they were already the proper size.
Commissioners face a variety of constraints:
- Courts have made it clear that "one person, one vote" means districts must have nearly identical population.
- Racial and ethnic minority voting strength needs to be considered.
- The state constitution requires districts to be "compact, convenient and contiguous" -- meaning no gerrymandered districts snaking 100 miles long by a few blocks wide. Commissioners must respect city and county boundaries and try not to chop neighborhoods or towns into separate districts.
- Commissioners must try to keep "communities of interest" together -- a nebulous concept that can include twin cities, economic ties, minority groups or other local consideration.
- Oh, and all this must be approved by a bipartisan vote.
How it works
In most states, legislatures draw the boundaries and the governor signs off on the plans. But in 1983, Washington voters approved a constitutional amendment that puts the job in the hands of four citizens. They're appointed by leaders of the four legislative caucuses. The two Republicans and two Democrats appoint a fifth, nonvoting, commissioner to serve as chairman.
Here's the twist: At least three of the four voting members have to agree on a plan.
In practice, commissioners try to protect their incumbents and create districts that leave them no worse off than they are now. One strategy is to draw roughly equal numbers of safe districts for each party and make the rest competitive "swing" districts within reach of either party.
House Democrats' commissioner is longtime Olympia insider Dean Foster. House Republicans are represented by Bellevue resident John Giese, a public relations executive and former gubernatorial and congressional adviser. Senate Democrats' appointee is Bobbi Krebs-McMullen, a Mount Vernon civic leader. Senate Republicans are represented by retired Seattle attorney Dick Derham.
Their pick for chairman is Graham Johnson of Langley, retired director of the Public Disclosure Commission.
The panel, appointed last winter, has held 16 hearings across the state to gather ideas from local officials and the general public. Commissioners have huddled with legislators and members of congress. Each caucus has three partisan redistricting specialists, and the commission has a staff as well.
Commissioners have sophisticated computer software that allows them to move lines by census tract, perhaps a city block or less, and know what the impact is on population and on partisan voting patterns.
Each commissioner will unveil a proposal on Sept. 24 in Olympia.
"Then the horsetrading really starts to happen," said commission Director Ethan Moreno. The commission plans three public hearings on the options and will work hard in October and November to agree on a single plan that can get at least three votes. The panel hopes to cross the finish line by Dec. 5, 10 days before the statutory deadline.
The proposal then goes to the Legislature, which can make only minor alterations -- and then only by supermajorities of two-thirds in both houses.
Gov. Gary Locke plays no role.
If the commission were to deadlock, the state Supreme Court would draw the lines. "It'll be very difficult -- unless they adopt my plan," Foster said with a laugh. "Of course all the commissioners are saying the same thing."
The usual rule of thumb is that loss of population in the urban districts and the rise of the outlying districts should help Republicans, said Todd Donovan, political scientist at Western Washington University.
Both parties acknowledge that, but say the districts are only one part of the equation. And they note that Democrats have been winning in the suburbs.
"Campaigns and candidates and issues are a lot more important than redistricting," Foster said.
Indeed, the districts created in 1991 have produced quite different results depending on which way the political winds blow.
In 1992, Democrats won all but one of the newly drawn nine congressional districts. The very next election, Republicans scrambled to a 7-2 margin. Since then, Democrats have picked up at least one seat each election, now enjoying a 6-3 split. The original idea was that the 1991 lines conceptually would favor Republicans in four districts, Democrats in four and the new 9th District would be a pure tossup district.
The new parties have exchanged control of both houses of the Legislature over the past decade. Today, the split couldn't be closer: a 49-49 tie in the House and a 25-24 Democratic edge in the Senate.
Both state party chairmen hope to seize a slight advantage from the new districts, but concede that the process is custom-designed to produce competitive races that will decide control of each election.
"Nobody's going to dramatically roll anybody," Vance said.
That competition is all to the good, said Donovan.
David Ammons is the AP's state political writer. He can be reached at P.O. Box 607, Olympia, WA 98507, or at [email protected].
Armed with new census figures showing Washington's population shifts, the Washington State Redistricting Commission is redrawing the boundaries of the state's nine congressional and 49 legislative districts. And Seattle politicians may come out on the losing end.
Seattle remains the state's most populated city. But because the city grew much less rapidly in the past 10 years than suburban areas ó 9 percent in comparison to, say, Kent's growth rate of 110 percent ó state lawmakers in Seattle could lose some political clout as the boundaries of several districts change.
Last night, the commission held its 16th and final public hearing, this one in Seattle, to gather input on the political and social geography of King County before drafting newly defined districts.
"Change is in store for many, if not all the districts in King County," said Ethan Moreno, the commission's executive director.
Picture a giant jigsaw puzzle that represents the state. Each district is one piece.
With 1 million more people counted in the state in the past decade, each piece of the puzzle must now either grow or shrink to be equal in population.
That means each legislative district should contain close to 120,288 people and each congressional district close to 654,902.
The newly drawn districts Moreno explained, should be contiguous, provide fair representation and encourage electoral competition, neither favor nor discriminate against any political party, and coincide with local political subdivisions and communities of interest.
Such "communities of interest," say community activists, must be applied to the city's ethnic and racial groups.
At the hearing last night, several speakers encouraged the four-member commission to preserve the common interests of the city's growing communities of color.
"We urge you not to just look at the census numbers but to value diversity," said Deni Luna, a North Seattle resident.
High concentrations of racial minorities are in Southeast Seattle, within the 11th and 37th legislative districts. According to the Redistricting Commission, the boundaries of those two districts will have to be redrawn to absorb an additional 6,000 people in the 11th and 12,000 more in the 37th.
"Theoretically, if the census data is used, our voice should increase," said Akemi Matsumoto, president of the Seattle chapter of the Japanese American Citizens League. The Asian-Pacific-American population is the state's fastest-growing racial group.
How much race will affect the state's new political landscape is not yet known.
Although there are certain guidelines that must be followed in drawing new district boundaries, the U.S. Supreme Court, in several decisions in the 1990s, ruled that race can be a consideration in drawing such maps but that it could not be the dominant factor.
Jesse Tanner, the mayor of Renton, told the commission that the redistricting process 10 years ago was "grossly unfair" to the people of Renton because the city had been sliced and divided in several ways.
"We have 18 different legislators we must talk to in Olympia, and not all of them have our interests in mind," Tanner said. "The influence of our citizenry is diluted."
Ron Rosie, chairman of the 41st District Republicans, said Mercer Island had more in common with the Eastside than with Seattle, and he urged the commission to keep that in mind as it considered new boundaries.
The commission is an independent, bipartisan panel appointed by the Legislature and made up of four voting members and a nonvoting chairman.
It will unveil proposed new district boundaries next month and will hold three public hearings in October to gather more input. The new boundaries must then be approved by three of the four commissioners to go into effect and be forwarded to the Legislature by Dec. 15. The Legislature can make only minor changes to the plans.
Florangela Davila can be reached at 206-464-2916 or [email protected].
When a new political map of the state of Washington emerges late this year, its Seattle portion might look radically different -- and not to the liking of the city's politicians.
Seattle has the equivalent of 5.2 state legislative districts. But because the city grew so much more slowly than the state as a whole during the 1990s, it will lose half of a legislative district next year.
That could put a few lawmakers out of office or make them go house hunting to continue living inside their districts.
Boom areas, such as Snohomish, Skagit and Whatcom counties to the north, and Clark County to the south, will gain legislative seats and political clout at the expense of Seattle, Spokane and Tacoma.
The state's three largest cities all grew less than 10.5 percent in the 1990s while the state grew 21.1 percent, to 5.9 million residents, a million of them new.
Revising the state's nine congressional and 49 state legislative districts to reflect population shifts falls to the Washington State Redistricting Commission, which will meet in Seattle tonight to gather public opinion on the changes.
The commission, which has already held 15 public hearings around the state, expects tonight's to draw its biggest crowd yet.
That's partly because of the political trauma of having some of Seattle's districts pushed into the suburbs to gain population, and to the multitude of minority, political and other interest groups here.
James Arima, for example, is with a coalition of local Asian American groups that will urge the commission to avoid diluting the political influence of Seattle's racial and ethnic minorities.
Those groups have greatest concentrations in South Seattle's 11th and 37th legislative districts. Four of those districts' six legislators are members of minority groups.
"The political boundaries play a big role in how one's voice can be translated into elected officials or how much influence we can have with elected officials," said Arima, who represents ROAR, or Raising Our Asian Representation.
The job of the commission -- which has two Democrats, two Republicans and a non-voting, non-partisan chairman -- is to reconfigure Washington's districts so that each congressional district has about 654,902 residents and each legislative district has 120,288.
"You can't add a million people to a state in 10 years and not expect a lot of changes," said Bobbi Krebs-McMullen, a Democratic redistricting commissioner from Mount Vernon. "One theme we hear over and over (at the hearings) is, 'Don't change us more than you have to.'"
The commission can expect lobbying by elected officials and interest groups to intensify after Sept. 24, when each of the four commissioners will present a draft redistricting plan.
Then the serious negotiations will begin.
The commission has until Dec. 15 to agree on a final plan -- which requires approval by at least three commissioners -- and submit it to the Legislature. The Legislature may make only minor changes in the plan.
Whatever happens in Seattle will be more painful for Democrats. Democrats hold all 21 state legislative seats in the seven districts partly or entirely within Seattle.
Republicans will have their own problems elsewhere. Some in fast-growing suburban districts could find themselves no longer living in their newly shrunken jurisdictions although past redistricting commissions have gone out of their way to avoid dislodging incumbents.
Seattle will have to endure more of what occurred in the last redistricting, in 1991, when some of its slow-growing legislative districts were pushed out of the city.
Changing one district causes a ripple effect in neighboring districts, so even one with perfect population might have to be revised radically.
"By the time you've gone through three or four districts, the bow wave is significant" as each district that is enlarged pushes out adjoining ones, said John Giese, a Republican redistricting commissioner from Bellevue.
That's what Arima and representatives of other minority groups are up against in their wish to keep the 11th and 37th legislative districts as little changed as possible to preserve minority political clout.
"We want the 11th and 37th to maintain what we have now and then add whatever additional population is necessary to meet the target," Arima said.
The problem for the redistricting commission is that people tend to be concerned about their own districts while the commission can't change one district without affecting others.
State Sen. Ken Jacobsen, a Seattle Democrat from the 46th District, said every lawmaker likewise "wants to start the redistricting (process) with their own district: 'Do mine first and then do the other 48 after you've got me sorted out.'"
If the state redistricting commission can be lured into kicking over the traces, it could make two entrenched members of Congress work up a sweat, and advance constituents' interests rather concentrating on their own.
The commission is holding the last of 16 public meetings Thursday at 5:30 in the Seattle City Council chambers. It then hits the maps to draw up congressional and legislative district boundaries to fit a state that has grown by 1 million residents in the past 10 years.
With 5.9 million of us, the "ideal" congressional district must come as close as possible to having 654,902 residents. The fast-growing 2nd District, in northwest Washington, is 64,585 people over the norm, while the 7th District in Seattle is underpopulated by 64,840 residents.
The commission is operating under a law that tells it to group together voters by "communities of interest" and draw up districts composed of "convenient, contiguous and compact territory."
But the five-member panel (two Democrats, two Republicans and a non-voting, non-partisan chairman) is also charged with designing boundaries that "encourage electoral competition."
The 1991 commission did a superb job of creating competitive districts, particularly for Congress.
Washington became a national battleground with GOP House Speaker Newt Gingrich once venturing all the way up to Stehekin on Lake Chelan, and House Democratic leader Dick Gephardt stumping across southwest Washington in a van.
Eight of the state's nine House seats went Democratic in 1992. Two years later, Republicans unseated five Democrats and picked up an open seat. The Democrats have since regained four of the seats they lost. The commission this year ought to create two more swing seats. Here is how they could do it.
Rep. Jim McDermott represents the solidly Democrat 7th District. The district needs to be extended beyond Seattle to gain more constituents.
The redistricting commission ought to take the 7th District across Lake Washington to include Mercer Island, Newport Hills and Newcastle. The move would put thousands of Republicans into McD's district.
In turn, the 8th District of GOP Rep. Jennifer Dunn needs to lose 40,375 to get to the norm. An obvious formula is to move the 9th District (of Democratic Rep. Adam Smith) east through suburban Pierce County, and possibly into the rural country around Mount Rainier.
As this is done, the redistricting commission ought to shift boundaries of Dunn's 8th District west across Lake Washington. Give her a few thousand low and middle-income Democratic constituents from Rainier Valley and Central District.
The districts would be less contiguous and compact, but democracy would be revitalized.
McDermott is often nicknamed Seattle's congressman-for-life. He acts the part: Just look at where he goes on Congress' district work periods. McD is one of Congress' junket kings: Sometimes in the company of the Clintons, he's been to India, Africa, South America, Hong Kong, the Caribbean, the Middle East and many places in Europe.
McDermott specializes in issues of personal interest, such as U.S. trade with Africa, not close-to-home stuff such as the transportation mess. McD keeps closer company with California liberals than Northwest colleagues. When he named Heather Foley (wife of former House Speaker Tom Foley) chief of staff, there was tongue-in-cheek talk of making her an ex officio member of Washington's congressional delegation. The reason: McDermott is often absent from the delegation's monthly breakfasts. Foley would be an engaged stand-in.
How would the presence of hostile Republicans help? They'd compel McDermott to spend more time with his constituents, and give some attention to this corner of the world.
At the other end of the ideological spectrum, Dunn has worked to make a big splash in the national Republican Party. She was a Gingrich confidante when he was House Speaker. In the past couple of years, she has directed George W. Bush's campaign in this state, served as a photogenic co-chairwoman of the Republican National Convention, and run a losing campaign for House Majority leader.
The 8th District's voters can reflect in the glow of Dunn's write-ups, although she always seems to be a bridesmaid when important Cabinet jobs are handed out. At home, Dunn is often not available to constituents who disagree with her.
The "gentlelady from Washington" has displayed one legislative interest: Dunn has used her seat on the House Ways and Means Committee to work for lowering taxes on the United States' wealthiest citizens.
The Bush tax cut embodies her dreams. It phases out the inheritance tax. Those in the richest 1 percent of the populace will save at least $3,000 a month in taxes. The poorest 20 percent of Americans will receive, on average, maybe $5.50 a month. The poorest 10 percent will probably pay, in that public services will be reduced to pay for the tax cut.
It would be good to put more of those less-well-off citizens in the 8th District. Dunn needs to listen and learn how the other half lives.
P-I columnist Joel Connelly can be reached at 206-448-8160 or [email protected]
What if the people in charge of drawing the state's legislative and congressional district boundaries drew a half-mile-wide district that began in Bothell and ended in Auburn? Not only would such a district be oddly shaped, it would strongly hint of political gerrymandering.
Gerry who? That's gerrymandering. At the beginning of every decade, the 189-year-old noun gets a fair bit of media coverage as officials start coveting crucial population and election data, the kind that's used to reshape the political landscape.
Gerrymandering refers to the manipulation of district boundaries for the advantage of one party or group at the expense of another. It happened for the first time in Massachusetts in 1812 under the auspices of then Gov. Elbridge Gerry.
Gerry strung together 12 towns in Essex County in a memorable way. He intended for the Democratic-Republican vote in Marblehead to outweigh the Federalist Party vote in the county's 11 other towns.
Gerrymandering has occurred since in many and various parts of the country. In decades past, it happened in Washington state. But in 1983, voters of this state put an end to contentious, closed-door practices that often accompanied legislative redistricting. In that year, Washington voters passed a pivotal initiative that led to a constitutional amendment and, ultimately, the creation of the Washington State Redistricting Commission.
For the second time in two decades, Washington has embarked on a more evenhanded approach to redistricting. The Redistricting Commission is an independent, bipartisan agency that exists for the sole and short-term purpose of redrawing the 2002 legislative and congressional boundaries through the next redistricting effort in 2011.
Unlike redistricting by legislative action, redistricting by commission is done in a highly public and open manner. The commission's four voting members and I are committed to building consensus and, in the end, creating new districts that ensure all the state's residents are fairly represented in the Legislature and in Congress.
Without the fair distribution of state and federal legislative power, ordinary people would not have an equal say in the way they are governed. Our federal and state constitutions require that we realign district boundaries to accommodate population changes due to births, deaths and migration.
Hence, every legislative district must be approximately equal in population so that everyone's vote carries the same weight. This is true for congressional districts as well.
According to the new Census 2000 data, the state's population is nearly 5.9 million people. If you do the math, that means each of the 49 legislative districts must contain approximately 120,288 people, and each of the nine congressional districts must have approximately 654,902 residents.
To create a fair redistricting plan, the commission must consider more than just raw numbers provided by the Census Bureau. In addition to population guidelines, the commissioners must follow other key legal criteria:
Escaping the realities of the new census data, however, is impossible.
Washington residents have witnessed enormous growth and change in the past decade. In fact, our state's population rose by 21 percent, outpacing the nation's 13 percent growth. As a result, many legislative and congressional districts, west and east of the mountains, have observed significant population shifts.
While it's too early to know how district lines will be drawn, we do know that change is inevitable. Some districts will expand. Others must contract.
Redistricting is a democratic event that asks us to pay specific attention to each district without losing sight of the big picture. We've been holding hearings throughout the state because we need to hear Washington's many voices before we can create a fair redistricting plan.
And that's where Seattle-area residents come in. On Aug. 2, you will have an opportunity to register your views and offer redistricting recommendations. The commission will hold the last in a series of 16 public hearings at the Seattle Municipal Building starting at 5:30 p.m.
Ultimately, the most informed redistricting decisions will be made if you come to the table ready to share your insights about the political, social and physical geography of Seattle and the greater Puget Sound area.
Graham Johnson is chairman of the Washington State Redistricting Commission
For the past three years, Washington's political process has been held hostage by simple math. With equal numbers of Democrats and Republicans in the House of Representatives, good public policy -- even great public policy -- has fallen victim to stalemate and partisan stonewalling.
We have the latitude to change these circumstances and have teamed up to do just that.
In February, Snyder introduced a measure (SB 6129) to change the House makeup to 99 members from 98. Under his proposal, 99 districts would be created for House positions while the requirement of 49 districts would remain for Senate seats. With odd numbers in both chambers, the chance of a tie in either chamber would vanish.
A stumbling block existed: The Washington Constitution prohibits separate districts for senators and representatives. Current law requires that representative and senatorial districts be "coterminous" or contained within the same boundaries.
That's where Kohl-Welles stepped in with a proposal (SJR 8281) to amend the constitution to allow separate districts. She simply could not watch this opportunity slip by without an honest attempt to keep it alive. Too many issues have gone unaddressed; too many people are frustrated beyond belief; and too much time, effort and tax dollars have been wasted during the past three years.
Evidently, many senators feel the same way; the measure enjoys strong bipartisan support from across the state with Republican and Democratic sponsors including Julia Patterson, D-SeaTac; Bob McCaslin, R-Spokane; Bill Finkbeiner, R-45th District; Ken Jacobsen, D-Seattle, and Karen Fraser, D-Thurston County.
This amendment to the constitution requires a two-thirds vote of the Senate and House and voter approval on the November ballot. We believe citizens should have the opportunity to vote on this critical issue. As difficult as it can be to approve constitutional amendments, we believe it's more than worth the effort.
This is our best chance to change things for the better for all of Washington. The state Redistricting Commission is drafting a plan that would alter Washington's legislative and congressional districts to reflect population shifts documented in the 2000 census. With this process already under way, the commission could plan for either outcome (keeping the status quo or creating new House districts) in the November election.
If we don't act now, it could be 10 more years -- until the next redistricting -- before we fix this problem.
This proposal is not about politics -- it's about policy. Our experience has shown that a tied chamber has meant a body in which even a majority of members are unable to act because of procedural rules dictated by the tie. For example, no bill can be brought to the House floor for a vote unless co-speakers agree.
The public suffers when innovative approaches to public problems are stymied by these circumstances. We think it's no coincidence that we are nearing the record for the longest session in Washington's history. We could save a lot of time and money, and pass better legislation, by eliminating the chance for this kind of deadlock.
This is not a novel idea. Plenty of other state legislatures deliberately maintain an odd number of representatives and senators to avoid the split-house problems we have come to know only too well in Washington.
Twenty-two state senates and 16 state houses are odd-numbered, with 11 states keeping both chambers uneven. And only two other states mandate coterminous districts. It's time for us to look at other options.
Another benefit of our proposal is a reduced, and more manageable, number of constituents for representatives. The redistricting commission must redraw boundaries for 49 districts of roughly 120,000 people each. Our measure would reduce that number by half for representatives, to about 60,000 constituents. This could enhance their ability to serve the people in their districts.
Last week the Senate State & Local Government Committee wisely took public testimony on both of our measures and will decide soon whether to pass them along to the full Senate. Let your legislators know where you stand on this issue. Just ask them to do the math.
Senate Majority Leader Sid Snyder, D-Long Beach, represents the 19th District. Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles, D-Seattle, represents the 36th District. She is chairwoman of the Senate Higher Education Committee.
Residents of Thurston, Mason and Lewis counties sent a clear message Thursday night to the people redrawing the state's political map: Don't cut up counties into political subdivisions and lump them with areas that lack common interests.
In particular, they opposed any suggestion that Thurston County be divided into as many as three congressional districts, which could happen when the Washington State Redistricting Commission reshapes the state's nine congressional and 49 legislative districts this year.
"We would be highly opposed to that," Thurston County Democratic Party Chairman Dave Kempher told the commission in the third of 16 hearings it plans statewide.
The current set-up -- with Thurston County represented by two separate congressional districts -- already hurts South Sound voters, he said.
Local builder Steve Cooper agreed, saying representation of residents in the 9th District outside Lacey isn't as good as it might be because the district takes in areas to the north. He blamed geography, not U.S. Rep. Adam Smith, a Democrat whose district is centered in Pierce and King counties.
Kempher urged the four voting members of the Redistricting Commission to use the Nisqually River as a natural dividing line between the 3rd and 9th congressional districts, and to place Olympia in the same 3rd District with Vancouver and the Interstate 5 corridor that connects the two cities.
But Rob Michie, an Olympia resident, said he believes Olympia would fit better in the 6th District with parts of the Olympia Peninsula than would Kitsap County, which now anchors that district with its heavy population base in Bremerton.
The four voting members of the Redistricting Commission listened to suggestion, but gave no hint of where they might draw the boundaries.
"We've been in three meetings. A lot of people are interested in county integrity," said Dean Foster, a Democratic appointee on the commission from Olympia.
The commissioners, who were appointed by the Legislature in a bid to remove some politics from a process that used to be given to state lawmakers, have the job of redrawing the state's political districts into roughly equally populated areas using 2000 Census figures. The goal is to ensure that each voter is equally represented.
They face a Dec. 15 deadline for submitting a plan to state lawmakers, who can make only minor adjustments to it. District boundaries will have to shift dramatically in some cases, but the two Republican and two Democratic commissioners aren't expected to formulate any draft plans until September, once their hearings are over.
Among those testifying was Thurston County Auditor Kim Wyman, who warned that her jurisdiction is already complicated with three legislative and two congressional districts.
"The more variables you add in ... counties around the state, the more potential there is for error," she said.
Others in the group of about 50 people complained that parts of western Thurston County, including Steamboat Island, have more in common with Olympia yet they are joined in the 35th legislative district with Mason County, which has a more rural culture.
Mason County Republicans and Democrats both spoke of their county having stronger links with Grays Harbor County than with Kitsap County, which also is part of the 35th district.
State Rep. Gary Alexander, R-Olympia, and Lewis County Republican Central Committee Chairman Ron Averill said the 20th Legislative District, which takes in part of Lewis, south Thurston and Pierce counties, should be redrawn to exclude the Pierce voting base.
Brad Shannon, political editor for The Olympian, can be reached at 360-753-1688 or [email protected].
On the web:
"Clearly, the lines are going to change. What they are going to look like, we don't know yet."-- Bobbi Krebs-McMullen, redistricting commission member
Population changes since 1990 are about to alter the political landscape in Washington state, and Thurston County is expected to be at the eye of the storm.
Thurston County voters -- who now are represented by 9th District U.S. Rep. Adam Smith and 3rd District U.S. Rep. Brian Baird in Congress -- could find themselves represented by a third person, perhaps U.S. Rep. Norm Dicks, whose Bremerton-based 6th District could be redrawn to take in part of South Sound.
All this is possible thanks to the once-a-decade process known as redistricting.
By law, each state must adjust its political boundaries after the Census to ensure that its legislators and members of Congress answer to equal numbers of voters.
In theory, that ensures that every voter's ballot carries the same weight.
The process gets a close-up look tonight in Olympia, when the Washington State Redistricting Commission holds the third in a series of 16 statewide hearings to get public comments.
"You're the convergence zone" for change, commission member Richard Derham told The Olympian's editorial board Wednesday, describing Thurston County's uncertain place on the political map.
Population growth in King and Clark counties are forcing political boundaries to shift in the direction of Olympia, said Derham, who is a retired King County lawyer and Republican appointee.
"Clearly, the lines are going to change," added Bobbi Krebs-McMullen, a Democratic appointee from Mount Vernon.
"What they are going to look like, we don't know yet."
The commission faces a Dec. 15 deadline to send its recommendations to the Legislature.
The Legislature has until Feb. 12 to make minor changes to the commission recommendations.
The changed legislative and congressional districts would take effect for the 2002 elections.
"It is a politically charged process, but one conducted with a lot of fairness and openness in the state of Washington," said Ethan Moreno, executive director of the commission.
One hearing the commission held two weeks ago in Montesano revealed that Grays Harbor County voters dislike their split representation in the Legislature and Congress.
Baird, a Democrat who now lives in Vancouver, has said he would resist any effort to split Olympia voters from his district's base.
Census figures show the 3rd Congressional District is overpopulated by about 43,000 voters.
This means that some 3rd District voters in Grays Harbor County might have to be moved into Dicks' 6th District, or Olympia-area voters might find themselves in a new district.
Similar questions hover over three state legislative districts -- the 22nd, 20th and 35th -- that overlap Thurston County.
The Democrat-dominated 22nd, which takes in Olympia, Lacey and northern Tumwater, and the Republican-dominated 20th, which takes in south Thurston County and parts of Lewis and Pierce counties, are overpopulated by comparison to other districts.
This means both districts must shrink in geographic size, and this could have implications for the 35th Legislative District, which takes in just the northwest corner of Thurston County.
The conservative but Democrat-leaning 35th District is in Mason County and also has a southwest piece of Kitsap County, including Bremerton.
The 35th District also faces pressure to share voters with the slower-growing 24th District, which stretches from the mouth of Grays Harbor all the way around the Olympic Peninsula to Port Townsend.
Derham said he feels no obligation to retain boundaries so two incumbent legislators won't end up facing each other for the same seat after redistricting.
The other voting members of the Redistricting Commission are Dean Foster, a Democratic appointee from Olympia who formerly served as chief clerk of the House; and John Giese, a Republican appointee from Bellevue who also is a lawyer with a major public relations firm. The group's nonvoting chairman is Graham Johnson, former head of the state Public Disclosure Commission.
Brad Shannon can be reached at 360-753-1688.
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Washington politicians are examining census figures released Friday like lottery players checking the numbers for last night's $10 million jackpot.
There is much at stake. The census will determine new boundaries for the state's 49 legislative districts and nine congressional districts.
Rewriting legislative districts will take on extra import this year because for the second Legislature in a row the state House is tied with 49 Democrats and 49 Republicans. Even small changes can help swing it one way or another.
Remaking congressional districts, though, will be easier than in the past because the state gained no new seats in Congress.
Some politicians will find their districts shrinking and potentially losing key constituencies. Others could find themselves redrawn out of office. Rural districts can become suburban districts. Districts can be redrawn in a less-friendly way.
"You can drive through neighborhoods and say, `These people like me' and drive through another and say, `These people don't like me,' " said Rep. Hans Dunshee, D-Snohomish.
"You're going to see some people awfully worried about this."
The preliminary census numbers show explosive growth in Clark and Snohomish counties. The figures will be used by the Washington State Redistricting Commission to redraw the political boundaries by the end of the year. Federal and state law requires that election districts be adjusted every decade to make sure they remain as close to equal as possible.
With growth uneven around the state, some districts will shrink and others will grow to get as close to 654,902 people in each congressional district and 120,288 in each legislative district.
The commission is an independent, bipartisan panel designed to avoid the nasty political fights that often accompany reapportionment. The commission will hold public hearings before submitting its plan to the Legislature by its Dec. 15 deadline.
But there will be big changes.
Rep. Jim Dunn, R-Vancouver, now represents parts of Clark County and most of Skamania County. His 17th Legislative District has 42,665 more people than it should, the legislative district the most out of balance.
He figures he will lose Skamania County and the northern part of Clark, giving up wide-open rural areas for some of the fastest-growing suburban areas in the state.
"I dislike losing it because I'm a country boy," Dunn said. "It takes me half a day to drive across my district. Now I'll be able to walk across it in an afternoon."
Among members of Congress, freshman Rep. Rick Larsen, an Everett Democrat, has the most to lose. He will need to rid himself of 64,585 constituents to get the district to the ideal size.
It matters where those people come from. If Larsen loses Everett, he loses a more-Democratic base than in the district's more-rural areas.
He says he's not worried, though, because he has been working on urban issues like transportation while also holding a seat on the House Agriculture Committee.
"As a moderate I'm in a good position to represent the district as it stands now and after the lines are redrawn," he said.
Veteran Congressman Jim McDermott, D-Seattle, will see his district - the core of the city where he is always safely re-elected - grow to include 64,840 new people.
In Eastern Washington, districts represented by two Republican congressmen will have to shift so Spokane Rep. George Nethercutt can pick up constituents and Rep. Richard "Doc" Hastings of Yakima can lose about 17,000.
Hastings said that it's likely his district, now completely in Eastern Washington, will be redrawn into the western side of the state.
Hastings, who served on the 1981 redistricting commission, said the biggest challenge will be in the Legislature where small changes could lead to big shifts in who has power.
He also said that Democratic members of the congressional delegation in Western Washington will have "a lot of give and take" in deciding how lines will be drawn.
Dunshee, whose Snohomish County district saw some of the biggest growth the past decade, said it is possible his district will be redrawn in a way that doesn't include his home in the city of Snohomish. He and the state's other politicians will now watch carefully as the redistricting commission begins its nine-month process.
"The wizards will descend to their dungeons and spit out maps for us," Dunshee said. "Then we will freak."
David Postman can be reached at 360-943-9882 or [email protected]
For more information on redistricting, go to the Washington State Redistricting Commission's Web site, www.redistricting.wa.gov.
Despite a decade of growth, Washington state won't be picking up another seat in Congress, based on Census figures released yesterday.
It's the first time since 1970 the state hasn't earned an additional seat after the decennial census, despite Washington's population growing by more than 1 million since 1990, the seventh-highest growth in the country.
Nationally, population and political power continued to move West and South over the past decade as the U.S. population grew 13.2 percent to more than 281 million.
Arizona, Florida, Georgia and Texas emerged as the big political winners with the release yesterday of the numbers used to distribute seats in the House of Representatives among the 50 states. Each of the Sunbelt states will gain two House members when the 108th Congress convenes in January 2003.
California, Colorado, Nevada and North Carolina will each gain one seat.
The Midwest and Northeast, which have been growing more slowly for decades, will lose a combined 10 seats.
New York and Pennsylvania will each lose two seats, while Connecticut, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio and Wisconsin each lose one. Also losing a seat will be Mississippi and Oklahoma.
Dave Brine, spokesman for the Washington secretary of state, wasn't surprised the state didn't gain a congressional seat.
"It's all relative to how fast the other states grew, and our growth hasn't been faster than a number of other states," he said. "It has been clear for some time that it wasn't going to be in the cards for us to get another district."
As of April 1, Washington had 5,894,121 residents.
That is an increase of 1,027,429 the past 10 years, or 21.1 percent. The state ranked seventh-fastest in numeric growth and 10th for percentage growth over the decade.
Washington is now the 15th most populous state, up from 18th.
The census also counted 14,563 Washington residents living overseas, for a grand total of 5,908,684. That number is used when congressional seats are allotted.
The U.S. Constitution requires that the nation take a census every 10 years and use the new population figures to apportion House seats among the states.
For the purpose of apportionment, the U.S. population was 281.4 million, excluding the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, which do not have voting House members. That number includes federal civilian employees and U.S. military personnel and their families living overseas who claimed a state as their home.
Every state is guaranteed at least one House seat, with the remaining 385 spots assigned through a mathematical formula that gives the most populous states the highest priority.
The gainers the past 30 years have largely been in the Sunbelt stretching from the Southeast across the West, while the losers have been clustered in the older Northeast.
California remains the most populous state with 33.8 million people, up by 4.1 million since 1990, and Wyoming the least populous with 493,782 people. Nevada had the largest percentage population gain - 66.3 percent. Only the District of Columbia lost population, down 5.7 percent since 1990 to 572,059.
Theresa Lowe, Washington state's population expert, said Washington typically grows by about 20 percent per decade.
"We have always been a strong growth state, and we still have solid growth," she said.
The numbers are the first release of information from the 2000 census. Data showing populations of cities, towns and counties will come in March. Later in 2001, the government will begin releasing population details, such as age, education and income, Lowe said.
The numbers - and information about where people live - are important for redrawing congressional and legislative district boundaries.
Unlike most states, Washington's redistricting won't tie up the Legislature in partisan knots. That's because voters approved a bipartisan Redistricting Commission of citizens appointed by the four legislative caucuses.
The panel will begin work after the more detailed census information is released in March.
The data also are necessary for distributing state and federal funds, Lowe said.
Lowe said Washington citizens' response to the census "exceeded all expectations," with a count nearly 91,000 higher than the state had forecast.
Census Bureau Director Kenneth Prewitt said the apportionment-population figure was higher than the Census Bureau had expected, raising hopes that the agency's work with thousands of community groups and a first-ever paid advertising campaign may have reached some people normally missed by census workers.
"That to us is an early indication, we hope an indication, we did particularly well with undocumented populations." he said.
There were several surprises, in part due to the inclusion of federal and military personnel overseas: Georgia and Florida each got two new seats, instead of the previously anticipated one, and North Carolina gained a seat while Indiana and Michigan each lost one.
North Carolina edged Utah, which had been expected to gain a seat, Prewitt said.
Ken Brace, president of Election Data Services, said Utah missed out on a new seat by 856 people.