More than 40 years after dealing with the topic as a state legislator, Republican Slade Gorton is headed back to redistricting in Washington. Senate Republicans named Gorton – a former lawmaker, attorney general and U.S. senator – as their representative on the five-member commission that will redraw the state's legislative and congressional districts for the 2012 election.
House Republicans named former state budget writer Tom Huff of Gig Harbor as their representative. Two Democrats already were named to the commission – the Senate named former Seattle deputy mayor Tim Ceis and the House Democrats selected Dean Foster.
"I know Foster, I know Sen. Gorton. I don’t know Ceis. But I'm sure it will work out great," Huff said at a Capitol Campus news conference called by House and Senate Republicans. "I've always had a philosophy of be fair, firm, frank and friendly. And I think this process calls for that."
Redistricting is a once-a-decade effort that follows each U.S. Census report. Last year's Census showed enough population growth in Washington to give it a 10th congressional district to go with its traditional 49 legislative districts. [Here is the commission's site for background on Washington's process.]
Gorton expects a fair process. And he said at least one of the state's congressional districts will end up bridging both sides of the state – perhaps running along the Columbia River. He said the effect of population growth and redistricting is that more conservative Eastern Washington would likely end up with about 2½ districts, up from the roughly two it now enjoys.
But Gorton declined to say where the new 10th might fall. The 9th was added after the 1990 Census and it was squeezed in between Olympia and Tukwila – along Interstate 5 and east of Tacoma. Some speculation is that the 10th will land around Bellevue or perhaps in Olympia, which has been closer and closer to slipping out of Southwest Washington's 3rd district as Vancouver has grown.
For Gorton and Foster it will be sort of a reunion. They both worked on the contentious redistricting in the 1960s when it was a partisan legislative job to redraw political lines and roughly equalize the population in state's legislative and congressional districts. Gorton was a lawmaker and Foster was a staffer in that earlier effort.
Foster also served in 2001 on the last commission, which has four partisan appointees. The four partisan members then select a fifth nonpartisan person to serve as their non-voting chairman.
The result is that three of the four partisan commissioners must agree on the outcome, which makes Washington somewhat unusual. Redistricting remains a highly partisan activity in most states.
Gorton said there is always speculation nationally about the advantage each party might gain or what might be swing districts, but he said he takes those with a grain of salt because voters change their minds.
"I don't think even when it's done in a highly partisan fashion that parties necessarily can predict what is going to happen," Gorton said.
UPDATE on original 1:26 p.m. post: Brian Zylstra in the Office of the Secretary of State posted this good piece about Gorton's first tour of redistricting duty, including historic photos and background about Gorton's role and the state's process.