The four appointed commissioners on Washington State Redistricting Commission released their proposals to redraw the political lines and recalibrate legislative and congressional districts to account for shifts in population, as well as add a new 10th Congressional District, at a Tuesday morning meeting in Olympia.

Though there were significant differences in the approaches taken by Democrats and Republicans, the most notable was an apparent role reversal from stereotypical party roles on the issue of recognizing large minority populations in congressional representation.

During the public forum phase of Washington’s redistricting process, the Commission heard from hundreds of citizens across the state about the desire for a majority-minority congressional district to be situated in South Seattle. In the plans released Tuesday, the Commission’s two Republicans (former State Rep. Tom Huff and former U.S. Sen. Slade Gorton) found room on their maps for a majority-minority district while Democrats split on situating a district that would be made up mostly of minorities.

House Democrat-appointee Tim Ceis drew a majority-minority district south of Seattle in his plan, while Senate Democrat pick Dean Foster said that his districts just “didn’t make the magic 50 percent.”

The apparent difference of opinion among Democratic ranks is something NW Daily Marker alluded to almost three months ago to the day, when we wrote:

Win/Win, OneAmerica and allies in the progressive wing of Washington’s Democratic Party are at loggerheads with an organized faction of their party’s establishment who view situating a majority-minority district in the South Seattle as an impediment to creating a new district around the state capital of Olympia, one that currently exists only on the drafting tables of Democrat strategists as the means for getting Denny Heck elected to Congress.

As the Heck coalition works through one Democrat-appointed commissioner and the South Seattle 10th effort works through another, they each run the risk of losing sight of the purpose of the hearings.

In between the lines, the implication of voting rights activists that minority communities in Washington’s Democrat-controlled environment remain dissatisfied with their representation and unwelcome in the political process may be cause for soul-searching within the party of progressives.

Back to the present day, The Stranger’s Eli Sanders encapsulated the angst of progressive Democrats best in his question to commissioners:

“Any of you want to offer a theory as to why the two Republicans on the commission appear more interested in a majority minority Congressional District than the two Democrats?”

But as Sanders and other sit down tonight to pore over the maps (available on the Commission’s website), the purpose behind the Democratic split should become abundantly clear. It’s just plain politics.

Though each of the two Republican proposals arguably make the state more competitive, but offer little in the way of truly safe seats, Democrats are using the process to consolidate power and play keep-away in the months before another predicted Republican wave in a presidential election year.

Even in the manner of each party’s presentation, there are clear signs that the partisan camps had approached legislative and congressional redistricting from vastly different perspectives and with very different agendas.

Republicans Gorton and Huff laid out cases for their respective redistricting plans citing population as their primary rationale and including community concerns as other factors considered in their choices. In contrast, the presentations of Democrats Tim Ceis and Dean Foster heavily leaned on economic conditions, levels of public health, and social indicators to justify their proposals.

Republicans seem content to let the map be defined primarily by where people are choosing to live and in the process allow for a playing field in Washington State politics that creates better opportunities for each party. In contrast, the Democratic plans seem to driven more by outcomes than opportunity, as evidenced by the over-strengthening of their hold in Western Washington and the attempt to break up Republican districts in Eastern Washington, an architecture that would allow for another decade or more of Democratic control in state politics.

In particular, the Ceis plan: consolidates Rep. Rick Larsen’s (D) 2nd District to give him a breather after last year’s nail biter against John Koster, extends Rep. Jim McDermott’s (D) 7th District further north into solid blue territory, creates the new 10th District around the State Capitol in Olympia (densely packed with public employees), and gives Tacoma and Federal Way to 9th District Rep. Adam Smith (D) (bending like a high jumper to avoid touching less predictable districts in Auburn).

The Ceis map also redraws the 1st Congressional District to bear only a passing resemblance to gubernatorial candidate Jay Inslee’s (D) current turf. Instead of straddling Puget Sound with one foot in Kitsap County and the other stepping on parts of North King, South Snohomish and the upper eastside of Lake Washington, the district would be pulled back onto the eastern shore of Puget Sound and would extend down into the purplish communities of Bellevue and Sammamish. And maybe it’s a trick of the eye, but the center of gravity of Ceis’ proposed 1st appears to be State Rep. Roger Goodman’s neighborhood.

Foster’s congressional plan could be seen as even more brazen, primarily because it is untethered from any desire to identify a large and distinct community of minorities in King County.

As new factors are added to the analysis of these maps – residence locations of incumbents and likely challengers being a key area of interest –Republicans will have to approach a negotiation after Democrats have gone all from the onset.

Debate among commissioners is tentatively agreed to begin sometime after October 11th, with a target date of November 1st for final maps looming.


[photo credit: Eric Constantineau]