An expert eyes the first drafts of state redistricting plan

The four plans are plainly partisan, with Slade Gorton's the most radical and Dean Foster's the most persuasive.

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Washington's current nine Congressional districts

The four plans are plainly partisan, with Slade Gorton's the most radical and Dean Foster's the most persuasive.

The Washington redistricting commission has released eight partisan plans (four congressional and four legislative), reflecting the preferences of the four legislative caucuses in Olympia. The commissioners are: Slade Gorton for the Republicans in the Senate, Tim Ceis for the Democratic Senate, Tom Huff for the Republican House, and Dean Foster for the Democratic House.

Other plans have been submitted by individuals and organizations, usually for part of the state, occasionally for the whole state, and so far, more for congressional districts than for legislative. Besides receiving and evaluating submissions and comments on their plans, the commission will hold a number of hearings around the state.

The official plans are honestly partisan with no apology, even with some pride in sticking it to the other party.  Likewise the commission honestly admitted that of course it would look out for the interests of their incumbents, euphemistically "respecting representation.”   

The redistricting commission has done a reasonable job historically and will probably do so this round. Still these plans are clearly partisan, making the necessary compromises a challenge. None, standing alone, is politically feasible. I personally wish the law required that the commission solicit some non=partisan good government plans, as from political science and political geography graduate students

I’ll comment on the Congressional plans here, and  tackle the legislative plans later. You can study the plans best on the redistricting commission's website.

Given the population totals for the state and the need for a new, 10th district, one district must cross the “Cascade curtain.” While I think there is some logic in crossing along the Columbia River, with part of Benton County joining the current 3rd, no plan chooses this. Rather three plans  (Huff, Ceis, Foster) use the I-90 corridor to extend the east King and Pierce 8th district eastward to include Chelan and Kittitas or more. Gorton instead, rather bravely, crosses the North Cascades to merge Whatcom, Skagit. Island, and San Juan with Okanogan, Chelan, and Douglas, making it the new 10th district and probably Republican. This is not dead-on-arrival, but unlikely.

The second critical population  fact, after factoring in a 10th district, is the substantial growth of the minority population. Since it proves fairly easy to create a majority-minority district  from south Seattle through south King county, the pressure to do so is almost overwhelming. The Gorton, Ceis, and Huff plans all do so, as the changed 1st, the 9th, and the new 10th respectively. Foster chooses to keep the 7th as essentially a Seattle district, but in fact, his inner core of districts, 1st, 7th, and 9th, could easily be adjusted to recognize a majority minority districts (I suspect there is such a version). 

The placement of the new 10th district is the third critical issue.  When I first wrote about the new 10th, I suggested Olympia as the logical base, as it is the largest city in the state without its “own” district. Foster and Ceis, as expected, do make this choice, with a Democratic tilt,  while Huff and Gorton combine Olympia with Kitsap and Tacoma respectively. This promises to be a major point of contention. If the Democrats want this enough, they will have to give way elsewhere. Gorton puts the new 10th as his “northern crossing” district, a long shot, while Huff is the only commissioner  to make the 10th the majority-minority district, which is not implausible.

Three plans make little change in eastern Washington’s 4th and 5th districts, but Ceis more radically shifts from an east-west alignment to a north-south, perhaps in the hope that such a 5th could conceivably elect a Democrat, though I doubt that would happen.

As for the 1st and 2nd district, the Democrats preserve the 2nd as much as possible, while Gorton jumbles the whole north radically and Huff realigns the 1st and 2nd to an east west alignment, possibly more Republican.  Similarly the Republican plans for the 3rd  shift it more westerly, the Democrats more northerly, for their respective partisan benefits.

Personally I prefer the Foster plan, except for the core 1st, 7th, and 9th districts. The Ceis plan makes a fair starting point for adjustment and negotiation.  I have not done any political analysis of the plans on the basis of the 2008 and 2010 returns, but clearly all the plans are cleverly partisan, Gorton’s more obviously, the others more sneakily.   

In media coverage, only a few articles have appeared so far, besides some newspaper comments on how their area might be affected. For example, the SnoValley Star suspects the new 8th, in most of the plans, will be more Republican. Chuck Slowe, an avowed conservative, states that the “Democrats could care less about WA State’s true political minority, Conservatives like me!"   Wikipedia, in a new entry on Washington’s 10th congressional district, discusses the proposals, noting that the political complexion of the Ceis plan is 54 percent Democrat, Foster’s 51 percent, Gorton’s 53 percent Republican and Huff’s 63 persent Democratic ( as he alone makes the 10th the majority-minority district). The Washington Redistricting Commission site has two sets of comments in downloadable pdf files.  Many commenters are quite positive about a preferred partisan plan, but many complain about what district  the plans would put them in.


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Dick Morrill

Dick Morrill is emeritus professor of geography at the University of Washington and an expert in urban demography.