Democrats and Republicans on Washington’s redistricting commission fired their first salvos Tuesday in the battle over the state’s congressional-district boundaries for the 2022 midterm elections.
The two Republican and two Democratic commissioners issued competing maps for the state’s 10 U.S. House districts — the starting point for negotiations as they face a Nov. 15 deadline to come to final agreement.
As they did with legislative maps proposed last week, the Republican commissioners, Joe Fain and Paul Graves, are aggressively pushing for more favorable competitive boundaries for the GOP, which now holds three of the state’s 10 House seats.
The Democratic commissioners, April Sims and Brady Piñero Walkinshaw, proposed maps that would more likely maintain the status quo partisan split, and said they’re hewing to legal requirements including fair representation and uniting communities of interest.
Three of the four commissioners must agree on a final legislative map and congressional map by the Nov. 15 deadline as part of the once-a-decade redistricting process that follows each census. If they do not, the state Supreme Court will take over and draw the maps.
Battle for 8th District
The Republican proposals would make major shifts to the swing 8th Congressional District, now represented by U.S. Rep. Kim Schrier, the Sammamish pediatrician who flipped the seat away from Republicans in 2018, defeating Republican Dino Rossi in one of the nation’s most expensive congressional races.
In the 2022 midterms, Schrier already faces notable challenges from two declared Republican candidates: Jesse Jensen, a tech-company manager and decorated Army Ranger combat veteran, who ran against her in 2020; and Matt Larkin, an attorney for his family’s manufacturing company, who ran for attorney general last year.
Both Graves’ and Fain’s plans would draw Schrier out of her district by removing Issaquah and Sammamish and adding in more conservative territory. Fain’s map would make the 8th what he called a “Cascades district,” running from Puyallup to the Canadian border.
Fain defended his plan as fair, saying Republicans deserve a shot at more representation, and said the 8th District should be in play.
“There is no question that the 8th is going to be the most hotly contested aspect for the congressional negotiations,” said Fain, arguing “it should be a district that is equally winnable by either party.”
Graves’ plan also would push Democratic Suzan DelBene, D-Medina, out of the 1st Congressional District.
The Walkinshaw and Sims plans would lop off some of the 8th District’s more rural and conservative regions while pushing it west to include Democratic-leaning suburbs like Bellevue and Mercer Island.
Walkinshaw said his proposal merely reflects the realities of the fast-growing Seattle suburbs, which have become more Democratic-aligned in the past decade. He said striving to create partisan competitiveness was not a top priority.
“To me, competitiveness is a code language for Republicans both here and nationally for gerrymandering,” he said, pointing to the GOP’s proposals that split up more cities and counties than the Democratic plans.
Walkinshaw predicted the Republican plans, if adopted, would be shredded by courts, and said he wrote his own proposal with legal principles in mind, so that it would be looked on favorably by the state Supreme Court if the two sides are unable to reach a compromise.
Both Sims and Walkinshaw also pointed to priorities such as respecting tribal sovereignty and increasing the power of communities of color. They both redrew the 9th Congressional District, represented by longtime congressman Adam Smith, D-Bellevue, to center more on South King County, maintaining its status as a majority people-of-color congressional district.`
Under state law, the electoral districts must be as equal in population as possible — about 770,000 people for each congressional district — and aren’t supposed to be gerrymandered to favor any party or discriminate against any group. They’re supposed to avoid dividing cities and other political subdivisions as much as possible. The law also says maps should “provide fair and effective representation” and “encourage electoral competition.”
All the proposals had to contend with an unavoidable demographic reality: massive population growth in Seattle and the Puget Sound region compared with relatively stagnant growth in Eastern Washington.
Because districts have to be roughly equal in population, that means Western Washington districts must shrink geographically, while Eastern Washington districts must grow in order to maintain equal population numbers.
That still leaves a lot of room for partisan maneuvering as the disparate map proposals show.
The heads of the state Republican and Democratic parties each issued statements Tuesday ripping the other side’s proposals.
Caleb Heimlich, the state GOP chairman, called the Democratic proposals “the least competitive maps in Washington state history,” accusing the party of “making a mockery” of the state’s bipartisan process.
“The Democrats are not making good faith efforts at redistricting, they are engaging in a hyperpartisan illegal gerrymandering effort to rig elections for perpetual majorities,” he said.
State Democratic Party Chair Tina Podlodowski offered a lengthier blast regarding the GOP plan, calling it out of compliance with the state’s redistricting law and established legal principles governing political maps.
She called Fain’s map “just silly,” noting it splits the city of Shoreline between the 1st and 7th districts, for example, and divides Whidbey Island and almost every county in Western Washington.
“We get that Republicans want to draw maps that help them win elections, but it shouldn’t be done by disenfranchising communities of interest. You just can’t draw lines down the middle of every county you don’t like because it suits your desire to make GOP districts. How disappointing,” Podlodowski said.