House wants minority representation in local governments

Crosscut archive image.

A Yakima postcard, circa 1950: The city's minority population has grown but there's never been a Latino member of City Council.

One day after the Senate stopped action on a minority representation bill, the Washington House passed the measure, mostly along party lines.

The bill sponsored by Rep. Luis Moscoso, D-Mountlake Terrace, aims to allow county commissions, school boards and city governments to tackle racial representation on their governing bodies without federal involvement.

A federal judge has ordered the City of Yakima to conduct city council elections by district voting rather than at-large voting across the city, to give minority candidates a better chance. Despite a large Hispanic population, the council has never had a Latino member.

The House measure sets up procedures for residents to seek changes in the way their local governments elect commissions, councils or school boards. The city council or school board, for instance, could then decide to establish district rather than at-large election of its members or change the boundaries of existing districts.

Fifty-one Democrats and Rep. Larry Haler, R-Richland, voted for Moscoso's bill, while 46 Republicans voted against it.

“All Washingtonians must have the opportunity to participate in local decisions," Moscoso said in a press release. In the same release, Rep. Sam Hunt, D-Olympia, said, “It is about reducing federal intrusion in local issues. The Washington Voting Rights Act gives tools to local governments and communities to work out their disputes where they are best resolved — at home.”

Talking with reporters, Gov. Jay Inslee said, "This gives more people a shot at local representation."

Moscoso's bill goes to the Senate, which killed similar measures in 2013 and 2014. A companion bill by Sen. Cyrus Habib, D-Kirkland, has stalled in the Senate Rules Committee.

On Wednesday, Senate Democrats tried but failed to bring Habib's bill to a full Senate vote. But at least one Republican senator, Auburn’s Pam Roach, earlier voted for the measure in committee. So the measure could have a chance in the Senate if the leadership of the Republican-dominated Majority Coalition Caucus decided to call for a full vote, perhaps as part of a compromise to get House action on another issue.

  

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John Stang

John Stang is a freelance writer who often covers state government. He can be followed on Twitter: @johnstang_8