Members of the bipartisan redistricting commission met for the first time Tuesday, starting what will be a lengthy process to determine the boundaries of Washington state's new congressional district.
Washington was awarded a 10th congressional seat after 2010 census figures released last month showed the state’s population had grown by 14 percent in the past decade. The commission must submit new congressional and legislative boundary maps by the end of the year to be approved by the Legislature and used for the 2012 elections.
The citizen commission is composed of two Democrats and two Republicans and overseen by a member-elected chairman. It was created nearly 20 years ago to relieve the Legislature of the exhaustive and heavily political task of redrawing boundaries, which must be done every decade after new census numbers emerge.
The four commissioners are chosen by the four caucuses in the Legislature, so that each party is equally represented.
Washington’s population grew by 14.1 percent since 2000, to 6,724,540, which amounts to 830,419 additional residents.
The 435 seats in the U.S. House are reapportioned every 10 years among the 50 states based on population shifts. Washington last added another House seat after the 1990 census. That seat, in the 9th Congressional District, is held by Democratic U.S. Rep. Adam Smith.
After the commission redraws the congressional boundaries, each of Washington state’s 10 districts will have about 670,000 people.
The announcement last month of the additional congressional seat got legislators from both parties talking about the potential for increasing their influence at the federal level.
Democratic Gov. Chris Gregoire said Washington’s extra representation was “welcome news,” especially coming at a “critical time in our nation’s history.”
At Tuesday’s meeting, commissioners chose former U.S. Sen. Slade Gorton as temporary chairman and heard from guests on various housekeeping issues, including a breakdown of their budget and requirements they face under open-meeting and public-records laws.
They expect to have chosen a permanent chairman by the end of this month.
At least three of the four commissioners must agree on the redistricting maps to pass them on to the Legislature. Once the commission submits its redrawn boundaries, the Legislature can make only minor changes that amount to no more than a 2 percent population shift among districts.
“I think this process is a great process. It really fits into my mantra of ‘fair, firm, frank and friendly,’” said Commissioner Tom Huff, a former GOP legislator. “I think we’re going to have some great discussions – needless to say, a lot of give and take, but good discussions, good input.”
The commission members are Huff; former U.S. Sen. Slade Gorton; former Seattle Deputy Mayor Tim Ceis; and Dean Foster, former chief of staff for Gov. Booth Gardner.