The Washington State Redistricting Commission adjourned Friday after a long day spent hashing over minute reconciliation details on areas of consensus agreement, while leaving the unresolved issues regarding Eastern Washington’s legislative maps out of the conversation.
The only discussion around what House Democratic appointee Dean Foster has called an “impasse” took place shortly after the commission convened when House Republican commissioner Tom Huff put a motion on the floor to have the four voting members make an up and down decision on an Eastern Washington proposal that had previously been made by Foster. The motion was approved and the vote was taken with both Huff and Senate Republican appointee Slade Gorton voting to approve Foster’s map and Senate Democratic appointee Tim Ceis and Foster voting nay.
Yes, you read that correctly. Foster voted against his own map, a turn of events that could be perceived as evidence of bad faith negotiation underscored by Huff’s solid presentation (click to open PDF file) during Thursday’s meeting of the timeline of talks specific to his and Foster’s bone of contention – the 14th and 15th legislative districts in and around Yakima and how to recognize a growing population of Hispanic residents in that area.
According to Huff’s account, Republicans have been on a wild goose chase for weeks, attempting to compromise on the appropriate percentage of Hispanics to draw into the 15th, a district that minority voting rights groups have made clear they would like to see made with a majority Hispanic population.
Although Huff and Foster seemed to have been circling around a population figure in the low to mid-50 percentile, just prior to Wednesday’s meeting Foster put a map on the table drawing a district with more than a 60% Hispanic population, according to first-hand sources, and left Republicans a ‘take it or leave it’ offer. When Huff passed, Foster notified the commission during Wednesday’s public meeting of what he called an “impasse,” and suggested that the process would best be handled during subsequent public sessions.
The turn of events leaves many with a very bad taste in their mouth for a process that had, until now, kept partisanship to a minimum.
In a statement House Republican appointed commissioner Tom Huff gave to the House Republican Caucus, he made clear his frustration about Foster’s decision today to disapprove of the same map he only recently felt was worthy of consideration.
“Forty eight hours ago, this eastern Washington proposal was presented to me by the Democrat commissioner and I assumed it to be a genuine offer made in good faith,” said Huff.
“I can’t explain why he turned down his own map. He drew it. He offered it. Then he walked away from his own plan and called it an impasse. I can only assume they are not interested in reaching a deal and are using eleventh hour tactics to game the politics of this process. It’s disheartening and very frustrating.”
Huff’s outlook for a tidy resolution to the commission’s year-long process for redistricting – one that has cost taxpayers close to $1 million – is understandably pessimistic considering the perceived breakdown of fidelity within the commission.
“My counterpart and I successfully negotiated 16 districts in Western Washington and nine of the 11 eastern Washington districts,” Huff said. “When we got down to two districts, it mysteriously unraveled. We are at risk of putting this entire process in jeopardy.”
The commission will meet again on 10:30 a.m. Saturday and have scheduled a session for Sunday. In order to meet its legal deadline, three of the four voting members of the commission must agree on congressional and legislative maps by midnight of January 1st, in order to present them to the Legislature.