Weigh in with your ideas on how to best shape the districts

May 22, 2011 

The state Redistricting Commission is on the road this week, hearing public comments and concerns on how boundaries for the state’s soon-to-be 10 congressional and 49 legislative districts should be drawn.

The five commission members — two Republicans, two Democrats and one nonpartisan, non-voting chairperson have an enormous task in front of them, fraught with politic and community interests that, when all is said and done, can’t all be met.

On the state legislative front, it’s almost a certainty that some elected officials will be unseated by the new boundaries.

That said, this is an important opportunity for voters to weigh in with their ideas on how to best shape those districts.

The state population growth of 14 percent verified in the 2010 Census means that the state’s House Congressional delegation will grow from 9 to 10 next year.

It also means that all nine existing federal voting districts have excess population, ranging anywhere from 37,116 in District 6, which sprawls from the Olympic Peninsula to Tacoma to 138,300 in District 8, which takes in eastern King and Pierce counties.

Look at the maps and one thing is certain; significant boundary adjustments must be made to carve out the 10th District.

There’s a high likelihood that the 3rd or 8th districts — or both — will feature boundaries that spill over the Cascade mountains, bringing people from both sides of the state into the same political community.

One can already hear the howls of protest from those who see the state as two distinct Washingtons with different climates, economies, landscapes and political interests.

But there’s another way to look at the east-west connection. In the long run, it’s a healthier point of view to emphasize the features that make us an undivided state — families, commerce, transportation systems and power supplies that don’t see the Cascade range as a barrier, but rather, common high ground.

“It’s going to help make us into one Washington,” said former U.S. Senator Slade Gorton, one of the Republican members of the redistricting commission.

The real hot-button issue for the commission is finding a home for the 10th Congressional District.

Currently Thurston County is divided into two districts. Here’s a chance to make Olympia the center of the new district.

That would be a boon to Democrats. But perhaps in return, the newly drawn 3rd District could become more of a Republican stronghold, rather than a swing district.

It’s easy to place too much emphasis on the district boundaries. The quality of a candidate and his or her ability to resonate with voters can and should be a greater consideration in how an election plays out.

While anyone can draw a perfect district by adding or subtracting population, no single district can be shaped without a ripple effect across all other districts. Therein lies a lot of the challenge facing the commission.

The commission has until Jan. 1 to complete its work. Commission members expect to have a draft proposal ready for public review in September and final maps ready for final comment by Nov. 1.

This will provide ample time for fine-tuning and avoid a repeat of 1991 when the work wasn’t completed until the deadline.

Voters amended the state Constitution in 1983 to create a redistricting process that is fair and less encumbered by political deal-making.

Thoughtful public input along the way will help the commission make good decisions. Now is the time to get involved.

HOW TO GET INVOLVED:

Public affairs network TVW will broadcast redistricting commission public forums live Tuesday in Bellevue and Wednesday in Everett and webcast all 17 events at tvw.org. The full schedule and details is available at www.redistricting.wa.gov.

For more information, contact Heather Boe at 360-786-0770 or heather.boe@redistricting.wa.gov.

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