Make Olympia the center of new congressional district

The good news is that Washington's census count of more than 6.7 million residents means the state is guaranteed a new congressional district.

The bad news is the independent redistricting commission is going to have a dickens of a time reshuffling the boundaries for the state’s nine districts in order to create the 10th District.

Our advice: Make South Sound — and the capital city of Olympia — the center of the new district.

Congressional and legislative district boundaries are redrawn every 10 years — after the national census. In 2001, the redistricting commission’s task was to create nine districts with about 654,900 residents in each.

Since the last redistricting the state has grown by about 830,000 residents. Those newcomers settled in across the state and as a result every single one of the state’s nine congressional district is going to have to give up residents.

Some congressional districts grew far more than others. The 3rd Congressional District, which runs from Olympia to Vancouver, from the Pacific Ocean to the crest of the Cascade Mountains, was the second-fastest-growing congressional district in the state. The 3rd District has to give up 106,895 residents in the redistricting shuffle.

The 9th Congressional District, which includes Lacey and the rural portions of King and Pierce counties all the way to Tukwila, is only over the new population goal by 50,675 residents. When the 9th District was created 20 years ago, it was designed as a so-called “swing” district and indeed both Democrats and Republicans have been elected in the 9th.

It’s clear from the census counts that the state’s new congressional district is going to have to be created on the west side of the Cascades. It would not be too difficult to shift most of the six congressional districts on this side of the mountains northward to create the 10th District in South Sound.

Whether the two Democrats and two Republicans on the redistricting commission are willing to do that is anyone’s guess. Each camp will be looking for political advantage in the boundary lines they draw.

Heretofore, it’s been relatively easy to draw a line down the crest of the Cascades, allocate Eastern Washington two congressional districts and divide up the west side into the remaining six districts.

But now, the 4th Congressional District in central Washington and the 5th Congressional District on the far east side of the state are both overpopulated. The 4th District must give up 101,955 residents while the 5th District is over by 51,155. What that means is as those two districts shrink, one or more of the western congressional districts is likely to breach the Cascades and reach into Eastern Washington. We would argue that extending the 3rd District eastward to Klickitat and southern Yakima or western Benton counties makes the most sense.

If the 3rd District breaches the Cascades and grows eastward, that would create an even larger population base in South Sound and southwest Washington to shuffle into the new district.

Creating 10 equally sized congressional districts, each with about 672,454 residents, will not be an easy task. Throw in the politics — with each political party trying to get the upper hand — and it’s likely to take the redistricting commission the entire year to reach an agreement on the new boundaries. In years past, the commission has barely made the Dec. 31 deadline and even slipped over the deadline.

Getting the boundaries set for the 2012 election is critically important. Today, Vancouver dominates the 3rd Congressional District, while Tacoma and Federal Way are at the heart of the 9th Congressional District. Making Olympia the center of the new congressional district makes sense and would reunite Thurston County voters into a single district.