Politics & Government

State's political boundaries to change

Washington’s political boundaries must change as a result of the once-a-decade remapping effort that adjusts for population shifts detected by the U.S. Census, and the public side of the job is just getting started.

The Washington State Redistricting Commission will hold the first of 17 meetings around the state this week – including a Wednesday evening public forum in Olympia at the Cherberg Building, next door to the Capitol.

“We will have maps of how things have to change,” said Cathy Cochrane, spokeswoman for the five-member citizen commission. “We want to get all the input we can by August. Then they are hoping to get a draft out for reaction in September and then make a final, proposed plan for the Legislature in early November.”

That’s a lot to be done between now and then.

The 2010 Census showed Washington’s population growth qualified it for a new, 10th congressional district in 2012. That now needs to be fitted into a new state political map. And the state’s 49 legislative districts need to be resized into roughly equal populations from what has become a great imbalance.

Olympia and Bellevue have been mentioned as possible sites for the new 10th.

Richard Morrill, a retired University of Washington demographer, has said the commission’s unwritten goal is to preserve the districts in which an incumbent lawmaker lives – and no sitting congressman lives in Bellevue or Olympia.

An official goal of redistricting is to keep communities intact – although that sometimes isn’t so easy in practice.

Olympia is entirely in the 3rd Congressional District as a result of the 2001 redistricting, and the sprawling Southwest Washington district elected Republican U.S. Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler of Camas in November.

Next-door neighbor Lacey was pulled out of the 3rd and put into the 9th, which re-elected Democratic U.S. Rep. Adam Smith of Tacoma last year to his eighth term.

Other districts, such as the 1st, cross Puget Sound.

Legislative districts face similar makeovers. 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 more people than the target of 137,236.

As it is redrawn to shed voters and shrinks in geographic size, it might be pulled entirely out of southeast Thurston County. And the 28th district serving adjacent Lakewood could expand to take in some of the 2nd.

In Thurston County, the Democrat-dominated 22nd district takes in Olympia, Lacey, Tumwater and the north county, and it grew by 17.8 percent – more than the state average. Bounded by Puget Sound to the north, it will have to lose 4,459 voters – probably from the east, south or even west county.

The Republican-dominated 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.

All of that is up in the air for now – and the commission wants to check in with voters before they get down to the task of actually penciling new boundary lines on the state map.

Unlike in most states, the redistricting job was taken out of the partisan Legislature’s hands in 1983 – after the 1981 plan ended up in court twice. Voters passed a constitutional amendment that created the commission that has had the job in 1991 and 2001.

By law, the commission needs three of its four voting members to agree on a single plan that can be sent to the Legislature for ratification early in 2012. The commission has two Republican members – former state Rep. Tom Huff of Gig Harbor and former U.S. Sen. Slade Gorton of Seattle – and two Democratic voting members – former Seattle deputy mayor Tim Ceis and former House Chief Clerk Dean Foster of Olympia.

The commission’s nonpartisan chairwoman is Lura Powell of Richland.

Brad Shannon: 360-753-1688