State's clout could rise in Congress

It looks like this state's political clout in Washington, D.C., is about to grow.

Statewide population has grown by about 100,000 in the past year and about 770,000 since the 2000 Census, making the state the 13th most populous at 6.66 million residents.

The growing population should translate into an additional congressional seat up for grabs in the 2012 election, bringing to 10 the number of U.S. House of Representatives elected by voters in Washington State.

An increased presence in Congress will help ensure that the state’s needs and concerns are better represented in federal legislation.

“This is very good news for Washington — a greater voice in the other Washington,” Secretary of State Sam Reed, a Republican, said upon learning of the changing U.S. demographics that shape how the 435 members of the House are apportioned across the country.

While the new makeup of the House won’t be verified until after the 2010 census this spring, it appears that Washington, Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Nevada, South Carolina and Utah will gain one seat and Texas will gain three, according to an assessment released by Election Data Services, a Virginia-based political consulting firm. The states likely to lose one seat include Illinois, Iowa, Michigan, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania. Ohio is expected to lose two seats in the House.

An extra seat would mean the state’s political map would be redrawn to include 10 congressional districts, plus the 49 state legislative districts. Each district would be based on equal distribution of state population.

There’s a good chance South Sound voters will be affected by redistricting. Three of the nine congressional districts in place include pieces of Thurston and Mason counties — the 3rd, 6th and 9th districts. It’s not too farfetched to assume that South Sound boundaries will be on the move.

Historically in this state, redistricting was a huge exercise in political gamesmanship. Whichever party was in control of the Legislature stood to gain the most from political gerrymandering.

But in 1983, voters in this state approved Senate Joint Resolution 103, a constitutional amendment that stripped the Legislature of the responsibility to draw district boundaries for congressional and legislative races.

The amendment created a much more autonomous and much less political redistricting commission. Democrats appoint two members of the commission and Republicans appoint two others. The four appointed commissioners than pick a nonpartisan chair to preside over the commission’s work.

The redistricting commission worked well after the 1990 and 2000 censuses. There’s no reason to believe the commission won’t be up to the task again after the 2010 Census.

Politics have not been completely stripped from the task of redistricting in this state. But the system in place is a vast improvement from the old way of creating political boundaries for elected officials.