Redrawn districts complicate inquiries to incoming representatives

Voters experience difficulty voicing concerns to outgoing, incoming representatives

bshannon@theolympian.comDecember 10, 2012 

The once-a-decade redrawing of congressional districts, coupled with the pending retirement of the state’s senior congressman Norm Dicks, might have some South Sound residents wondering who will listen to their concerns.

Need help from the state’s congressional delegation? Trying to weigh in on the so-called fiscal cliff – that series of automatic tax increases and spending cuts set to take effect next month? It may not be as simple as shooting an email to the victors of last month’s election.

Take the experience of one Eatonville resident who contacted The News Tribune after trying to email U.S. Rep. Dave Reichert of Auburn to urge the Republican to support tax increases. She was told to try again in January.

That’s because Eatonville voters may have helped elect Reichert last month, but they won’t officially call him their congressman until the new Congress is sworn in on Jan. 3. That’s when the 8th District shifts into new territory extending over the Cascades to include Wenatchee.

Reichert, like other congressmen, uses a computer program to regulate incoming email from his congressional website. His office has set the controls to block emails from the new 8th District.

“We’re not their congressman,” Reichert spokeswoman Natasha Mayer explained. “We can’t nominate someone for a service academy if they are not in our district or help them with their mortgage ... That’s why we set the parameters.”

But, Mayer added, voters “are welcome to call the office or send a letter. Until they are our constituents we can’t provide a service. But we are happy to have their voice heard. Everyone in the world is welcome to contact us.”

In the 6th District that extends from Tacoma to the coast, voters also face a tough time getting through.

Dicks’ Capitol offices are in flux as he works to shut them down after 18 terms in Congress. The Democrat’s main office phone number goes to voicemail. His website directs voters to send their queries to the state’s senators, Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell, until his replacement Derek Kilmer, D-Gig Harbor, is sworn in next month.

Dicks’ staff recently moved out of the Rayburn House Office Building space they had occupied since 1992. His remaining employees are working out of Appropriations Committee offices and an office that Dicks keeps in the Capitol itself.

District offices in Tacoma, Bremerton and Port Angeles remain open, though federal officials will be removing equipment soon because the leases expire at the end of the month.

“We are still trying to be responsive, but as we get closer to the end of the month it will be a little more awkward,” said George Behan, Dicks’ chief of staff.

Kilmer, who has spent two weeks in Washington, D.C., for new-member orientation and is also touring the district to meet with businesses, doesn’t have congressional email and office phone numbers yet. But he said constituents are able to reach him through his campaign website.

The same is true of newly elected congressman Denny Heck, the Olympia Democrat who will represent the state’s new 10th District that takes in most of Thurston County and radiates northwest to Shelton and northeast to Puyallup and University Place.

“If people want to get in touch, they can visit our website,” Heck campaign spokesman Phil Gardner said, noting that Heck also has had a busy schedule meeting with his constituents-to-be. “If folks want to have an impact on what is going on in D.C. right now, they should probably contact their old member.”

For many in the Lacey-to-University Place zone, Democratic Rep. Adam Smith would be the one to reach before January. Smith, formerly of Tacoma and now of Bellevue, saw his 9th District moved north to wrap around both sides of lower Lake Washington.

His website is accepting email queries from voters entering addresses in both the old and new 9th districts.

Meanwhile, the go-to congressional office for voters in Olympia and most of the rest of south Thurston County is Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler’s. The Camas Republican represents the area until Jan. 3, when her district shifts further south.

“Our office continues to respond to requests and serve residents of her entire current district, including Olympia,” the congresswoman’s spokesman Casey Bowman said Friday in an email. “We will do so until the new boundaries take effect and folks in the new 10th District have Denny Heck officially sworn in as their new representative.”

So far, Bowman said most questions they are getting “are largely about the fiscal cliff, and they run the gamut. Many have opinions over whether or not the tax rates should remain the same, some want to see lower federal spending, and others have questions about how the sequester might affect them.”

Brad Shannon: 360-753-1688 @BradShannon2

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