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    Bring democracy closer to the people

    Guest Opinion: Why dividing legislative districts in half is a better way to serve Washington's citizens.
    State Rep. Hans Zeiger

    State Rep. Hans Zeiger

    State Rep. Hans Dunshee

    State Rep. Hans Dunshee

    Though we share the same first name, we represent different parts of the state and different parties.

    We're both sponsoring House Bill 1121, to divide our state’s legislative districts in half, because it would better serve our citizens.

    Now, there are 49 legislative districts in our state, each with two representatives and one senator. We propose to keep the same number of state legislators, but to split up districts so that representatives serve a smaller number of citizens without serving alongside another lawmaker sharing the same territory. If our bill passes, each representative will have his or her own district after the 2022 redistricting.

    Washington’s population has grown by twenty times since the state was founded in 1889, and we think the state’s Founders would appreciate thoughtfulness about how citizens are represented in Olympia.

    Here's why this reform makes sense:

    First, split districts will bring legislators closer to the people. While a Senate is designed to be more distant — to represent states as opposed to districts at the federal level, and with fewer elections — a House of Representatives is designed to have localized constituencies and frequent elections.

    This distinction between House and Senate was central to the debates between the Federalists and the anti-Federalists at the beginning of the country, with the anti-Federalists asking for even smaller, more localized Congressional districts. At the state level, a constituency of 137,000 is not impossible to represent, but it places steeper demands on a citizen legislator who must take in the concerns of multiple communities. A House district of 70,000 people would increase the likelihood that citizens know their representative and their representative knows them.

    Second, localized House districts will enhance the role of place in public life. An existing legislative district of 137,000 people may encompass multiple “communities of interest,” in the parlance of redistricting, and dozens of jurisdictions: counties, cities, school districts, ports. It takes in rich and poor neighborhoods and educational and cultural and commercial institutions of all sorts.

    It includes various geographic features, from mountains to rivers to islands. A legislator should know and love all of these things and places if she or he is to serve the people who inhabit them. In an even smaller territory of representation, each main street and historic building, each stream and hillside becomes relatively more important. Washingtonians especially know the importance of place. A smaller district promotes a deeper pride of place, which is fitting in a state like ours.

    Third, split districts will increase the willingness of citizens to offer themselves for public service. This is partly because the campaign process will be easier, allowing candidates to reach a higher percentage of doorsteps and attend a higher percentage of key local events while maintaining another livelihood. Once in office, representatives will have fewer constituent calls and less casework, which means busy professionals who wear other titles of community leadership can more easily balance their calendar.

    Fourth, localized House seats are a plausible alternative to a professionalized legislature. As the states have grown, legislatures have had to deal with more complexities of law, bigger agencies, larger constituencies. Ten of the 50 states have full-time legislatures. Washingtonians have always preferred part-time legislators.

    Our state constitution begins with the words, “All political power is inherent in the people,” and we like to know that our legislators come from among the people. Rather than asking legislators to spend more time on the job, we should make it easier for them to be part-time.

    Fifth, localized House districts will help to control the skyrocketing costs of campaigns. Sadly, $1 million races, in terms of combined fundraising and spending by candidates and independent interest groups, are becoming more common. While no fewer House seats will be at stake than before a split district plan, candidates and interest groups won’t have to spend as much money to reach voters. Instead of a targeted mailing to 20,000 swing voters, a candidate can target 10,000 voters. This will require less time “dialing for dollars” from lobbyists and major contributors. The split district solution is a sensible campaign finance reform.

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    Posted Wed, Feb 20, 7:49 a.m. Inappropriate

    I think Washington should go to a unicameral (one house) legislature ala Nebraska. Less politicians = less ears for special interest groups to whisper in = a very good thing. Now, which Hans wants to step down for the good of the public?



    Posted Wed, Feb 20, 10:58 a.m. Inappropriate

    Why not just eliminate the second seat from each house district and then assign one senator to two house districts? Then you'd have half the number of seats in both houses and no redundant representation in the house. That would save a TON of money. All the arguments about "proximity to the people" are silly. Our districts are already sized properly; we just don't need TWO representatives per district PLUS a senator. It's totally excessive.

    Personally I think a unicameral legislature is the way to go; I've always thought so. Nebraska has one, but so do whole countries that are more or less the size of Washington in population (eg Denmark).

    If we did that, we could also seat one representative from population-equal districts, and then we could seat extra at-large seats, assigned to political party lists so that the popular vote by party is reflected in the seat totals in the legislature (with a 5% threshold); that help counteract the effect of gerrymandering and help with the "safe district" problem.


    Posted Wed, Feb 20, 11:23 a.m. Inappropriate

    The plan is to break the dominant hold the Greater Seattle area has on state politics. There's really no other plan at work here.

    If the Republicans can't win by the popular vote, they must change the way the districts are drawn. This is their way to gerrymander a win.


    Posted Wed, Feb 20, 1:28 p.m. Inappropriate

    This is only about gerrymandering the results of elections. The Republicans wish to gain seats, and the Democrats wish to ensure wins for favored ethnic groups. Neither side gives a crap about our State, or Citizens. Our State, Local, and Federal Governments are doing all that they can to diminsh to power of Citizens.


    Posted Wed, Feb 20, 7:23 p.m. Inappropriate

    Thanks for checking in, Hanses. You must be busy with the state legislature in session.

    This is a really sweeping statement:

    What do you think? It's your democracy.

    Truth is, it isn’t our democracy. We’re just people, and we can’t change the legal structures of our governing institutions willy-nilly. You guys know that though . . ..

    Did you just forget that people only can change “our” municipal and state governments if we do not run afoul of constitutional limits, statutory proscriptions, regulatory hurdles at the state and local levels, the judicial officials in this state, and financial realities? Maybe you meant to mention those barriers to our ability to effectuate changes to “our” state and local governments and it slipped your minds.

    Your message of more responsive representative governance? It falls on deaf ears here. This is Crosscut, a statist website. It’s all about less control by people, and more control by government agents.

    Read this recent story and the comment thread – you’ll see DB, the comment editor (Copeland?), and a number of posters strongly support diminishing the public’s right to select municipal legislators. They advocate swapping out representative local legislatures and replacing them with municipalities where some government head just appoints people that individual wants to set the municipalities' policies that would be imposed on the public:


    That’s flaming statism, and the exact opposite of your thrust in this column, right Hanses?


    Posted Thu, Feb 21, 10:49 p.m. Inappropriate

    Hans down one of the worst things these clowns in Olympia have put forth.


    Posted Fri, Feb 22, 2:39 p.m. Inappropriate

    I never thought I would see a bill submitted by to such ideologically diverse legislators.
    Like many bills that involve well intended people from diverse points of view this a winner.

    Their arguments ring true when I think of my own Legislative district and numerous outhers.

    They omitted to point out one more huge benefit--Voters would get less junk mail in election season because they are voting for one state representative instead of two.

    peter d

    Posted Sat, Feb 23, 5:31 a.m. Inappropriate

    "we" the people need to set limits on how much money each candidate can receive from all sources during campaigning.

    Hopefully this would allow a more responsible and respectable candidate with integrity and common sense to choose from.

    because what we have now isn't working for the middle class!

    I also think we have a conflict of interest allowing government employees to vote. If the majority of voters that vote, work for government, nothing can/will change. We will keep getting the same results. More government, more taxes, more regulation etc.


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