Based on new census data, which shows Washington state has grown by close to 1 million people, the Redistricting Commission is at the beginning of their once-a-decade realignment of legislative and congressional districts.
Democrats and Republicans each pick two representatives and they choose a fifth person to chair the committee. The House Democratic Caucus appointed April Sims and the Senate Democratic Caucus chose Brady Pinero Walkinshaw. The House Republican Caucus chose Paul Graves and the Senate Republican Caucus chose former South King County Senator Joe Fain.
Each side drafts ideas on maps and keeps debating their ideas until three of the four agree on a plan. That needs to occur prior to the Nov. 15 deadline. This process is about as political as you can get because each party’s goal is to come away with a plan that could keep them in power for the next 10 years.
Since both sides select their best brains, it will likely come down to trade-offs. There are two overriding political calculations. Former President Donald Trump still has some influence, but not as much among the more mainstream Republicans. Secondly, the percentage of people of color is growing and many vote Democratic, although some older members of Asian communities are pretty conservative. If people of color vote together, they are a formidable voting bloc. But like much of the general population, priorities among people of color can be different.
Washington is a blue state, and currently the Democrats control both Houses and the governor’s office. Their goal is to keep as many incumbents in power as possible and add to their total if they can.
Citizen input is reflected in the commission’s drafts, which is to avoid splitting communities and keep them in one legislative district if possible. That is particularly important with minority communities to avoid diluting their influence. Washington state is ranked tenth for percentage of the population identifying as American Indian and Alaska Native. That voting bloc is important, and drafts show the Yakama Nation united in the 14th District rather than split between the 14th and 15th Districts 14. That is politically important to Democrats because much of Eastern Washington is conservative.
However, the Colville Tribe apparently wants to remain split between Districts 7 and 12 — possibly thinking that gives them more legislators to work with. The Tulalip Tribe remains united in District 38. More residents will be contacting the commission now that the drafts are in circulation.
But this is a political process, and most incumbent Democrats want to stay where the voters know them to improve re-election chances. Republicans want as many competitive districts as possible, which is also a general goal of the commission. Republicans hope to be in the majority after the next election. Some districts will need to expand and others will need to be reduced, but by law, each district needs approximately 157,000 people.
But there are also policy politics, which is why Republicans want more competitive seats, which is logical for the party not in power. Republican strategists have their eye on several districts where the incumbent may be vulnerable, including two seats in the 30th District they think might be vulnerable in 2022 on public safety issues. Two maps remove Des Moines and Milton from the 30th District and extend Auburn farther east. However, South King County — particularly Kent, Auburn, Federal Way and Renton — has large groups of people of color and two of the maps try and align people of color in four South King County districts.
Depending on negotiations, there could be seven majority-minority districts statewide. However, the 31st Legislative District has relatively small numbers of minorities and three Republican legislators. Graves said his map would nearly double the number of swing districts from six to 11, and observed the Democrats’ plan would cut the number of competitive districts to three, which may fit the Democratic goal for a party trying to stay in power. Graves’ map would also draw 22 incumbents, mostly Democrats, out of their districts, which Democrats are unlikely to agree to.
Graves’ proposal would also try and make the 47th District more conservative by shifting it south and east to include Black Diamond and Maple Valley, therefore making the three moderate Democratic incumbents, and two people of color, potentially vulnerable in the new district. This is Fain’s old district, and he is very knowledgeable about it and all of South King County. In contrast, Fain’s map tends to follow school district boundaries and keeps 73% of residents in their current legislative district.
April Sims’ goal was to reflect the reality of the state and try and keep underrepresented communities together, which is why she included the city of Yakima in the 15th District because it would be majority Hispanic. Her plan would draw 14 incumbents out of their districts, nearly evenly divided between Democrats and Republicans. Democrats would also like to expand the conservative area in Whatcom County to include more Democratic-leaning Bellingham. Although that might be more aimed at State Sen. Doug Ericksen (R-Ferndale), who likes to sponsor controversial conservative legislation.
Walkinshaw’s map unifies Bremerton and minimizes splits in Renton and Mount Vernon. Additional points of debate will be Graves’ establishment of a JBLM district and attempts to consolidate Tacoma, Vancouver and Everett, which would weaken Democratic strength, although his plan agrees with Walkinshaw’s on unifying Bremerton. Many of these items will become trading stock when the movements get serious in early November.
Most congressional districts haven’t changed much over the years as Eastern Washington is more conservative than Western Washington. However, the congressional redistricting maps may get Donald Trump’s attention as he has endorsed primary opponents of two incumbents who voted to impeach him. The races to watch are the 3rd Congressional District in southwest Washington where Jaime Herrera-Beutler is the incumbent. Trump is supporting one of her primary challengers, special forces veteran Joe Kent. However, this district was previously represented by a Democrat, and if Herrera-Beutler gets to the general election, she may find some Democrats that will admire her for standing up to Trump.
The key to the 4th District is Yakima and the Tri-Cities where Republican Congressman Dan Newhouse is the incumbent. Newhouse also voted against Trump, and that is what got former police chief and candidate for governor Loren Culp into the congressional race. However, Newhouse might be trying to get Trump’s support or his supporters by introducing the “Masks Off Act,” which would give parents a grant equivalent to the amount the government provides for education, and allow the parents to take the child out of any school that requires masks and transfer the students to a school that doesn’t require masks. This is a solid Republican district and will likely not elect a Democrat.
The other district that might be in play is the 8th Congressional District, where the incumbent is Democrat Kim Schrier. This district was held by a Republican for several years and there were three Republicans hoping to run against Schrier. If the Redistricting Commission moves the district farther east and adds more Republican territory for next year, the district could be competitive. Graves’ plan would push Congressman Adam Smith (D-9th District) and Suzan DelBene (D-1st District) out of their districts. Smith has faced this issue before and likely would fare well in a new district. However, could DelBene be vulnerable?
The rest of the districts look to be safe for the incumbents. But any movement by the commission of a few thousand votes could change that for either party. Lastly, we will need to wait until filing, which is several months off, to see who will actually be in each race.
Federal Way resident Bob Roegner is a former mayor of Auburn. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org.