A push to create Washington's first majority-minority congressional district appeared to gain momentum Tuesday as the first proposed maps...
OLYMPIA — A push to create Washington’s first majority-minority congressional district appeared to gain momentum Tuesday as the first proposed maps were revealed by the panel in charge of redrawing the state’s 2012 political boundaries.
Three of the four voting members of the Washington State Redistricting Commission endorsed the concept, drawing variations of a district that would pair parts of southeast Seattle with ethnically diverse South King County cities including Renton, Kent and SeaTac.
That would, for the first time, create a congressional district where ethnic minorities, chiefly Asian Americans, African Americans and Latinos, would make up a majority.
Yet, whether the idea survives in coming months — or is tossed around as a bargaining chip — remains to be seen.
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The maps released Tuesday were only a starting point for what are sure to be intense negotiations between the two Democratic and two Republican members of the commission.
Three of the four commissioners must agree on new maps for congressional and legislative districts by the end of the year or the task falls to the state Supreme Court.
Both parties proposed maps that appeared aimed, at least in part, at maximizing their prospects in the 2012 elections.
Republicans, for example, are seeking to create more rural districts and limit what they argued is the outsize influence of the metropolitan Puget Sound cities. Meanwhile, one Democratic proposal would push 15 Republican state lawmakers out of their current districts.
In a job that melds demographic science with partisan maneuvering, the commission is tasked with reshaping the state’s congressional and legislative boundaries to account for population trends reflected in the 2010 census. That includes drawing the state’s much-anticipated new 10th Congressional District, awarded due to population growth.
A coalition of immigrant-rights and other activist groups has been pushing for a majority-minority congressional district for months, showing up in force at public hearings to make the case that the state’s growing minority population deserves more political clout. At first glance Tuesday, it appears the commission was listening.
In a move that surprised some activists, the concept was endorsed by the panel’s two Republicans, former U.S. Sen. Slade Gorton and former state legislator Tom Huff, as well as Democrat Tim Ceis, a former Seattle deputy mayor. The lone holdout was a Democrat, Dean Foster, the appointee of state House Speaker Frank Chopp, D-Seattle.
In the two Republican plans, the majority-minority district would start as an open seat, centered on South King County and including parts of southeast Seattle as well as Kent, Renton, and SeaTac. (Gorton’s plan also would push the district east to include Mercer Island and Bellevue.)
“We’ve all been to the same hearings and we’ve heard the same testimony,” Huff said of the minority groups’ push for better political representation.
In Ceis’ plan, the 9th District, now represented by Adam Smith, D-Tacoma, would become the majority-minority district. Smith’s district would be reshaped, losing much of its Pierce County territory and stretching north to include South King County.
Minority and immigrant-rights activists were happy about the first drafts, though wary they’d be used as part of negotiations.
“I would like to believe that the commissioners heard the voices of the people and we made it impossible to ignore,” said Pramila Jayapal, executive director of OneAmerica, one of the groups advocating for the new majority-minority district.
But Jayapal said she’d been around politics long enough to know that much of the initial plans could be seen as political posturing.
All of the plans released Tuesday for legislative districts also include proposals for majority-minority districts, including some in South King County and some in Central Washington.
The commissioners took widely varying approaches to locating the state’s new 10th Congressional District.
Gorton produced perhaps the most unusual plan, stretching the new district across much of the northern rural portion of the state, from the San Juan Islands to Okanogan County. Gorton said he wanted to ensure the new district was not centered on the urban areas he sees as overrepresented.
Ceis joked that Gorton’s new district would be a chore for any member of Congress to traverse, especially in the winter. “It would go from floatplanes to dog sleds. There would be a lot involved,” he said.
When it came to legislative districts, both parties also jockeyed for partisan advantage.
Gorton issued a map that likely would weaken the last Democratic district left in Eastern Washington. That includes taking out much of Senate Democratic Majority Leader Lisa Brown’s Spokane base.
Christian Sinderman, a Democratic political consultant, singled that out as “the most impressive bit of partisan skulduggery.”
But Democrats also played the partisan game.
Ceis’ map, for instance, would force 17 legislators out of their current districts — 15 of them Republicans, including much of the Senate Republican caucus. Ceis acknowledged the politics, noting he’d been appointed by Brown, the Senate Democrats’ leader.
Several lawmakers were surprised to find they might have to move or run against colleagues to stay in office.
Rep. Ed Orcutt, R-Kalama — moved out of his current district in all four proposals — said he’s not particularly worried at this point. “There’s nothing finalized, so there’s no sense getting worked up over it right now,” he said.
Indeed, the commissioners cautioned that some of the displacement was merely due to their efforts to draw logical districts.
The panel is supposed to ensure that each district is as close to equal in population as possible, with 672,454 people in each congressional district and 137,235 in each legislative district.
The commission plans to take public comment on the proposals before meeting again next month.
More information can be found at www.redistricting.wa.gov
Olympia reporter Andrew Garber contributed. Jim Brunner: 206-515-5628 or firstname.lastname@example.org