Majority-minority congressional district on the table in redistricting

Posted by Jim Brunner, Seattle Times 09-14-2011
OLYMPIA — The issue of minority political representation took center stage Tuesday morning as the state’s first redistricting proposals were revealed.

The Washington State Redistricting Commission met at the state Capitol this morning to offer their initial recommendations for what the state’s new congressional and legislative districts should look like for the 2012 elections.

The bipartisan commission has heard for months from a coalition of minority groups that districts should be reshaped to give racial minorities more clout. It appears the commissioners have been listening — though whether these first maps are just partisan bargaining chips remains to be seen.

Three of the four commissioners proposed creating a majority-minority congressional district in the south King County area.

And in a bit of a surprise, the only commissioner to leave the majority-minority district out was Dean Foster, the appointee of state House Speaker Frank Chopp, D-Seattle (though Foster’s plan, like all the others, does contain legislative districts that are majority minority).

Foster said he thought the testimony of minority groups was “terrific” but in drawing the plan, he considered city boundaries and other factors and “hadn’t put that much emphasis” on getting a congressional district to be more than 50 percent minority.

Both Republican commissioners, former U.S. Sen. Slade Gorton and former state legislator Tom Huff, proposed a majority-minority district centered around south King County. So did Democrat Tim Ceis, a former Seattle deputy mayor appointed by the Senate Democrats.

Of course, all the plans angled for partisan advantage, generally altering the state’s congressional boundaries to protect incumbents and limit swing districts. Republicans, for example, generally tried to draw more rural congressional districts and limit the influence of the more liberal Puget Sound metropolitan areas.

Gorton said the Puget Sound area is “overrepresented” now, and that one of his chief aims was to make sure the new 10th district was not an urban one.

Ceis acknowledged the partisan nature of his plan, too. “I’m here as the appointee of the Senate Democrats to work on this process,” he said.

The plans were rolled out quickly Tuesday morning to a crowded state Senate hearing room filled with media and political operatives eager to see the new maps.

The commission will take public comment on the draft proposals before its next public meeting in October.

The commission must agree on final maps by the end of the year, though commissioners have set an informal deadline of Nov. 1. If the commission fails to agree by the end of the year, the state Supreme Court would draw the new maps.

Other initial highlights of the initial proposals today:

10th District: The commissioners took different approaches on where to put the new 10th Congressional District. Gorton proposed a sprawling, largely rural district stretching along the northern border with Canada (taking up what is now mostly the 2nd District). Huff would make the 10th a majority-minority district, including parts of south Seattle, Kent, Renton, and SeaTac.

Both Democrats, meanwhile, would place the district in the south Puget Sound area, taking in Olympia.

In the Ceis plan, the district would be compact, stretching from roughly Olympia to parts of Pierce County, including Lakewood and University Place. The Foster proposal would also include Olympia, and portions of Pierce County, but it would also become a Pacific Coast district, encompassing Clallam, Jefferson, Pacific and Grays Harbor counties.

8th District Democrats have long eyed the 8th Congressional District as a possible swing district and have made strong bids to take out incumbent Republican Dave Reichert. But after 2012 they may not be able to. At first glance, all of the plans would make the district safer for Reichert — with three of the four proposals stretching the district across the Cascades into Kittitas and Chelan counties.

Legislative incumbents Although incumbent protection is a chief goal for both parties, the realities of drawing the maps means that some incumbents will find themselves out of their districts. Each of the four commissioners had at least several incumbents out.

Ceis’ plan, for example, had at least 17 incumbents drawn out of their districts — mostly Republicans. Rep. Bob Hasegawa of Seattle was drawn out in three of the four plans, and Rep. Ed Orcutt, R-Kalama, was out in all of them.

That doesn’t necessarily mean those incumbents can’t run well in slightly altered districts.

For example, Rep. Hans Zeiger, R-Puyallup, was drawn out of his district in three of the four proposals. But a notation by his name in one of the Republican documents released today noted that Zeiger lives in an apartment and is ready to move.

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