The despicable sabotage of the Washington State Redistricting Commission reached a new low Monday. Voters should be outraged.

When Democratic-appointed commissioners declined to go to court to defend the legislative district maps they helped draw, their tactical abdication set the stage to tilt a piece of the state’s political landscape. Democratic legislative leaders — House Speaker Laurie Jinkins and Senate Majority Leader Andy Billig — have declined to fight a lawsuit aiming to make a Yakima Valley district more Democratic, despite earlier votes to leave the map largely unchanged. Jinkins and Billig, along with the other named defendant, Secretary of State Steve Hobbs, a fellow Democrat, should take active roles in this case. So far, only Hobbs has moved in that direction.

Why I resigned as chair of the redistricting commission

Mounting no defense of the legislative district map eviscerates the bipartisan ethos voters set up the Redistricting Commission to enforce. The only way to fix this is to redesign the commission to limit party bosses’ power. The structure of trusting the state’s political district mapmaking to two Republican appointees and two Democratic ones — along with a nonvoting chair they choose — has failed. It must be modernized and made truly nonpartisan.

Sarah Augustine, the commission’s chair, was right to resign in dismay after Commissioners April Sims and Brady Walkinshaw, appointed by the Democratic House and Senate caucuses respectively, blocked joining the court case. With two Republicans voting to defend, that created a party deadlock, effectively leaving the commission to sit on the sidelines.

Brought by residents of Franklin and Yakima counties, the case concerns whether Latino voters in the Yakima Valley are fairly represented. The lawsuit doesn’t pull punches about its intentions, calling the newly drawn legislative 15th district “a facade of a Latino opportunity district” because “Latinos vote cohesively in favor of Democratic candidates by over a 2-to-1 margin” yet this district skews Republican. 

A courtroom is the proper venue to hear whether this claim has merit. But Democratic officials found a cheaper likely win by simply refusing to defend the case, or the maps they helped make over months of study and meetings. 


Augustine’s eloquent, damning goodbye at the end of Monday’s meeting clearly defined the problem: “By failing to defend the redistricting plans agreed to by consensus, state authorities have chosen to undermine the process and dismiss the compromises taken in the public interest.”

The action effectively amounts to abandonment of the bipartisan bargaining process that a 1983 Constitutional amendment constructed.

The state’s political landscape was more mixed then. That fall, when 61% of state voters approved bipartisan redistricting, Washington had two Republican U.S. senators; five of its eight members of Congress were Democrats. The governor was a Republican; Democrats ran the Legislature. Today, with every statewide office and the Legislature in Democrats’ hands, it is dismaying that partisan hardball has trampled honest compromise.

The Democratic legislative leaders who voted with wide majorities to only tweak the commission’s maps before enacting them should stand behind their votes by defending the maps in court.

U.S. District Judge Robert S. Lasnik could then fairly weigh whether the maps violate the Voting Rights Act. Similarly, appointed Secretary Hobbs should request the court to take action by providing specific instructions on which maps to use. Hobbs’ office doesn’t draw district maps, but it does oversee the elections that use them. In a filing Wednesday, Hobbs suggested the lawsuit should properly include other involved parties. That could open the door to Lasnik adding the Redistricting Commission involuntarily, a helpful step toward ensuring a proper proceeding.

Without anyone mounting a defense — and the Redistricting Commission’s deadlock over intervening — Democrats’ partisan cause could win by default. A likely outcome may be the bipartisan-bargained map reshaped so this district is more to Democratic liking, while whatever Republicans traded to establish this district stands.


No wonder Augustine lamented the absence of “good-faith effort” in declining to defend the maps drawn by the commission’s consensus.

Washington deserves better. Voters should demand a redistricting panel that includes nonpartisan commissioners so neither big party can dominate. Nonpartisan commissions established in Colorado, California, Michigan and Arizona offer models well worth study.

This display only strengthens the case for reform. It follows the Redistricting Commission’s abhorrent refusal to abide by the open-meetings law was an affront that calls for targeted reforms. This craven partisan undermining hit the foundation of the system so hard a rebuild is required.