Redistricting: it's got that swing, says Slade Gorton

A master redistricter protests that the commission increased the number of swing Congressional and legislative districts.

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Former Sen. Slade Gorton

A master redistricter protests that the commission increased the number of swing Congressional and legislative districts.

Slade Gorton, the former Republican U.S. Senator who served as one of four members of the Washington State Redistricting Commission, takes issue with my recent article that asserted that the Congressional districts moved in too-partisan directions. Not true, says Gorton, a master of Washington politics.

Gorton explains that his template for a "swing" district was that neither party had more than a 54-46 percent advantage. By that measure, there are now four Congressional swing districts (out of 10) in the state. The obvious one is the new 1st district (from Redmond north to Canada). Gorton says that the new 3rd (based on Vancouver, Wash.) has only 2 percent more GOP voters than Democrats, noting that the 3rd has been Democratically controlled for 34 or the past 40 years.

Next on the Gorton swing list is the 8th, Dave Reichert's district that now extends into the Republican Eastern Washington. Certainly the current 8th has been a swing district, though held fairly comfortably by Rep. Dave Reichert, a Republican. The district adds Republicans on the Eastside, but meanwhile the Seattle suburbs continue to drift Democratic.

The fourth swing district, in Gorton's analysis, is a surprise: the 6th, extending from Tacoma to the Olympic Peninsula. Democrat Norm Dicks has held this seat forever, which Gorton says masks the fact that it is actually a swing district that could come back into play upon Dicks' retirement (probably not far away if the Republicans retain control of the House).

Gorton also says the commission drew lines in such a way as to increase the number of swing legislative districts to 15-17.

He chalks this up to the way this state redistricts, "one of the two or three best systems in the nation." The other good ones, Gorton says, are Iowa (totally separated from politics), and Idaho, which has a system like Washington's. The key, he says is the absence of a tiebreaker member of the commission, who normally has all the power as the two parties deadlock. The Washington system has two from each party with a fifth, non-voting member to move things along; it takes three votes to adopt a plan (the current one was adopted 4-0).

I'd make a few points in reply. One is to note that the 2nd (north Puget Sound) is no longer a swing district; nor is the 9th (south King County); nor is the new 10th (centered on Olympia). A second point is that calling a district a swing district when it has a popular incumbent and up to a 54 percent party advantage is to think in post-incumbent terms, not in the present.

One other interesting point I learned from talking with Gorton: Redistricting commission members can play no political role, including contributing to candidates, while on the commission, which doesn't formally disband until next July. It's hard to know whether Gorton is enjoying not spending money on candidates and not being forced to choose, or itching to get back into the game. (Bet on the itch.)


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