The Evergreen state’s population surge in the past decade was enough to give it a 10th congressional district, and speculation is running rampant about changing political boundaries will affect Thurston County and other areas.
The county faces big changes; congressional and legislative districts here must be resized into equally populated zones. U.S. Rep. Adam Smith’s 9th district runs from Tukwila to Lacey along Interstate 5 and could be pulled north or south, depending where the new 10th district is placed.
It’s a jigsaw puzzle that the two Democrats and two Republicans appointed to the citizen-led Redistricting Commission are just beginning to study as they gear up for formal work later in March.
Let the guessing begin.
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“It’s a fun game,” says retired University of Washington demographer Richard Morrill. “The goal of the commission is to protect incumbents. That isn’t written into the law, but that’s what they will do.”
Morrill and other students of redistricting point to two places that lack incumbents as potential hubs for a new 10th district: Thurston County and northeast King County. But they cautioned that more analysis of the Census data released last week is needed.
The commission’s plan for 10 equal congressional districts and 49 equal legislative districts is supposed to be completed and sent by Dec. 31 to the Legislature. Locally, the Thurston County Commission also must begin its own redistricting work later this year for county commission districts, precincts and other local jurisdictions.
Olympia and Lacey are in the 3rd and 9th congressional districts, respectively. If they don’t land together in the new 10th – or move entirely into the 9th – they could be added to U.S. Rep. Norm Dicks’ 6th district, which runs in an arc south from Tacoma to Belfair, where he lives in Mason County.
Republican Thurston County Auditor Kim Wyman agrees that northeast King County and the Olympia area are logical places for the new 10th.
“I think we have a shot at least at being in the discussion” for the new 10th, Wyman said. “My gut hunch is the 10th is going to be in northeast King County. ... At the end of the day, I think we will be in a single congressional district in this county.”The 9th – which overlaps Joint Base Lewis-McChord – could be pushed north or south.
Wherever the 10th goes, explosive growth in the 3rd district, which covers Southwest Washington, and in the 8th district east of Lake Washington, are driving the biggest changes to the overall state congressional map.
The 8th is represented by Republican U.S. Rep. Dave Reichert, and its population grew by 23.8 percent over the past decade, the fastest of any state district. That gives it 138,300 more people than the new population target of 672,544 per congressional district.
Newly elected Republican Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler’s 3rd district grew by 19 percent, the second fastest. That makes its population too large by 106,894 people.
Because Eastern Washington also has grown too much to fit into the existing 4th and 5th districts, some east-of-the-Cascades residents could shift into the 3rd district, pulling the overpopulated 3rd even farther away from Thurston County.
“There is no doubt that the 3rd district must move east toward Yakima County or Benton County. (Other) districts could cross over to Eastern Washington, but I don’t think that will happen,” Morrill said.
“Based on the numbers I’ve seen, it’s pretty likely Olympia won’t be in the 3rd Congressional District,” said Dean Foster, the House Democrats’ appointee on the Redistricting Commission. Foster also served on the commission in 2001, when members voted to split Thurston County into two congressional districts and added portions of a fourth legislative district to the county.
LEGISLATIVE SHIFTSLegislative boundaries are subject to similar changes, and some will be more difficult to draw as the commission tries to keep small cities and similar jurisdictions intact where possible.
The fastest-growing legislative district was the 2nd, which runs from Rainier and Yelm in Thurston County to McKenna, Roy, Graham, and Eatonville in Pierce County. That Republican-to-libertarian-flavored area grew by 36 percent and now has 26,471 people more than the target of 137,236.
It now must shed voters – shrinking in geographic size – and could have to pull out of southeast Thurston County.
In Thurston County, the major district is the 22nd, which takes in Olympia, Lacey, Tumwater and the north county. It grew by 17.8 percent, greater than the state average. Bounded by water to the north, it will have to lose 4,459 voters – probably from the east, south or even west county.
The 20th takes in parts of southwest Thurston County, including Rochester and Tenino, and all of Lewis County. It could move north toward Olympia and Yelm.
Auditor Wyman said she thinks the 35th district – which runs from Bremerton to Mason County and to Mud Bay in west Thurston County – could shift farther into Thurston County, and the 2nd could shift entirely out of Thurston County.
“At the very least I think we’ll lose at least one district” of the four overlapping the county, she said. “The 2nd district has got to shed the most, so it makes sense to shed that out of Thurston County.”
Also of interest to Thurston-area voters is the 28th, a competitive district for Democrats and Republicans that runs from University Place to DuPont and needs to add people. This could stretch it over the Nisqually River into Thurston County, to the south directly into the 2nd, or to the north – where it would take from two underpopulated districts in Tacoma, the 27th and 29th.
PUREST OF POLITICS
Redistricting commissioners, who have compared their job to a jigsaw puzzle, usually like to work from the edges of the state inward – often starting in Eastern Washington and working up from the north and south ends of Western Washington.
“You can’t go into Canada and you can’t go into the Pacific Ocean, so you start moving toward the center,” Foster said.
But before new maps take effect for 2012 elections to the Legislature and Congress, at least three of the four members of the state commission must approve them. The Legislature can only fine-tune the maps.
Democrats Tim Ceis, a former deputy Seattle mayor, and Foster, a former chief of staff to Gov. Booth Gardner and House chief clerk, join Huff, a former state House budget chairman, and former U.S. Sen. Slade Gorton on the commission. On Friday, the panel picked an executive director, Bonnie Bunning of Olympia.
Lura Powell, the non-partisan and non-voting Redistricting Commission chairwoman based in Richland, said it is too early to say anything definitive.
“The data just got here,” Powell said. “It’s really important for us to do this in a very deliberate and thoughtful way – and to listen to the public. To that end, we are encouraging the public to submit their ideas, but also to attend public hearings.”
But both major political parties also will be urging their representatives on the commission to draw lines favoring their future electoral chances.
“My favorite part of redistricting is this is the purest political process we go through as a nation. It is pure politics,” Wyman said, adding, “Our state is a little more level playing field because the Legislature doesn’t do it.”