The Washington State Redistricting Commission went down to the wire with its work, but the members ended up with a good plan.
State commission members Slade Gorton, Tim Ceis, Tom Huff, and Dean Foster unanimously agreed on compromise congressional and legislative plans by 10:30 p.m. on New Years Day. It was not a surprise that they agreed to a plan, because they were not about to risk collective defeat.
Having studied redistricting for 40 years, and been involved in many court cases (such as in Washington, Mississippi, and California), I can attest that the Washington process and results are among the best. Given the commission members' forthright admission that they would try to change voters' districts as little as possible and attempt to protect incumbents, all the while enhancing chances for their respective parties, I’d grade the plans as A-minus — within those constraints. And even from an idealistic, good-government point of view, in which incumbency would not be a factor, the plan would still deserve a B. But idealism is not the system we have.
The commission had to come up with redistricting plans for both the congressional districts in the state and the state Legislature.
First, let's review the congressional plan. Washington had the enviable task of configuring a tenth district. The plan is an ingenious compromise that respects the geography of the state and cleverly balances Democratic and Republican aspirations.
This was made easier by U.S. Rep. Jay Inslee’s decision to run for governor. Given the distribution of population and of incumbents, and the need to minimize county splits, there was little option for the state's 3rd, 4th, 5th, and 6th districts. And given the very high preference of the Democrats for a district centered on Olympia, by far the largest city of the state without its own district, the Democrats seemed prepared and indeed had to accept highly reconfigured 1st and 2nd districts, splitting the north Sound between an island, coastal, and urban (and Democratic) west, and a suburban, exurban, small town, and rural east, which probably leans slightly Republican (although President Obama carried the area in 2008). This compromise is exactly what I predicted and advocated in Crosscut at the start of the process.
The second big change, one that is not only healthy for the state but in reality was totally compelled by our rapid increase in ethnic diversity and growth of minority population, is the creation of a majority-minority district, the pretty drastically redone 9th. This in turn required, fortuitously, the breakup of the city of Seattle in the 7th. This is actually good for Democrats as it avoids the packing and wasting of Democratic votes in a single Seattle-centered district. Again, this is a change I predicted and advocated. The inclusion of Bellevue is a little surprising and a more compact minority majority district could have been drawn, but the end result is not unreasonable, as Bellevue is not the place of few minorities it was a generation ago.
The third big congressional change was the breaking of the Cascade curtain by the inclusion of Chelan and Kittitas counties in the 8th district. This proved far less disruptive than having to shift part of Yakima and/or Benton counties west to the 3rd district.
After the brand-new 10th, the plan's greatest change is in the 1st District, where Inslee has served and which had the least resistance to alteration. This in turned changed the 2nd District, reshaping it more geographically than demographically. The creation of the 10th forced the 9th District north and east, displacing the 8th to the east (to create its crossing of the Cascades). The new plan most closely reflects the Huff draft plan for the districts 1 through 5 and the 8 district, and the Ceis plan for the 6th, 7th, 9th and 10th districts.
The winners and losers? Winners are Olympia, with its own district; Seattle now being part of two districts; and minorities with a majority district. I have no sense whether, over the decade, folks in Chelan and Kittitas will gain from being in the 8th district or not. The Wenatchee metropolitan area will get two representatives, sort of. One could speculate that the plan slightly benefits the Republican side, but this is because of demographic change, not any weakness in the Democratic negotiations.
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