Politics & Government

State picks up 10th congressional district

WASHINGTON - Washington will pick up another congressional district, and its share of federal funding should increase after the U.S. Census Bureau reported Tuesday that the state had been one of the fastest-growing over the past 10 years.

The new, 10th congressional seat will give the state added clout on Capitol Hill. Only 11 other states will have more members in the House.

Officially, the state now has a population of 6,753,369 – up 14.1 percent, or more than 830,000 people, over the past 10 years.

Not only is Washington the fastest-growing state on the West Coast, numerically it was the eighth-fastest-growing state in the nation and percentage-wise the 13th-fastest-growing. Washington also grew faster than the national average of 9.7 percent.

In the 2000 census, Washington ranked 15th among all states in population. With the 2010 census, it ranks 13th.

Every congressional district in the state will be affected by the redistricting. Most of the speculation is that the new 10th district will be centered in Olympia and could have major effects on the existing 3rd, 6th, 8th and 9th congressional districts. Pierce County could be divided among four different congressional districts under some scenarios.

While most of the attention has focused on the new congressional seat, more than $400 billion in federal funding annually is handed out to state and local governments based on population formulas.

“Much is riding on the results we announce today,” said Commerce Secretary Gary Locke, a former governor of Washington state. “The 2010 census will serve as a backbone for our political and economic system for years to come.”

The Census Bureau is part of the Commerce Department.

Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire was well aware of the impact the census would have on the state.

“At a critical time in our nation’s history, not only do I welcome the additional representation in our nation’s capital, I am pleased Washington state’s share of federal funding to support critical programs like Medicaid and education will also increase,” Gregoire said.

Experts had earlier predicted Washington state would pick up another congressional seat. It’s the third time in the last four censuses in which Washington has gained a seat.

“Around every political water cooler in the state of Washington right now, discussions are actively under way as every amateur politician is trying to speculate about where the new congressional district would be,” said Nick Handy, the state’s elections director.

An independent redistricting commission will draw up new congressional and legislative boundaries. Washington is one of seven states in which redistricting has been taken out of the hands of the Legislature.

The commission has two Democrats, two Republicans and a nonvoting chairman. It takes support from three of the four commissioners to adopt new boundaries, though the Legislature could make minor adjustments.

Prior to 1983 the Legislature handled redistricting, but the issue was highly partisan, and at one point a federal judge had to appoint a special master to draw up new boundaries.

Voters in 1983 approved a constitutional amendment creating the independent commission.

The commission won’t get down to work until more detailed census figures are released early this spring. The new boundaries will be in effect for the 2012 election.

Adding a 10th congressional seat will put Washington in the group of medium to big states on Capitol Hill, said Matt Barreto, an associate professor of political science at the University of Washington.

“We could be a much more influential state, especially if our upward trajectory continues as most demographers believe,” he said. “Potentially we could get additional seats.”

Even though the commission has wide latitude, there are still some basic rules, Barreto said. The average population of a House district will now be 710,767, up from nearly 647,000 in the 2000 census. The commission will be bound by the “community of interest” standard, which Barreto said could mean “you probably couldn’t draw a district that stretches from the coast to Yakima.”

In addition, Barreto said, the rule of thumb in any redistricting is that incumbents get protected.

Both political parties will keep a close eye on the redistricting.

“We won’t know exactly where the new congressional seat will be located for some time,” said Luke Esser, chairman of the state Republican Party. “But wherever it is located, we look forward to electing a Republican to represent the new 10th Congressional District in 2012.”

Handy notes that the bipartisan makeup of the redistricting commission makes it “really hard to picture a political compromise that involves a district that has a heavy political makeup of one party.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.