Democratic legislative leaders in Washington State announced today that they’ve chosen two highly qualified individuals to represent their caucuses on the 2021 Redistricting Commission, the body tasked with attempting to redraw the state’s congressional and legislative maps following the decennial census.
Representing the House Democrats will be Washington State Labor Council Secretary-Treasurer April Sims; representing the Senate Democrats will be Grist CEO and former State Representative Brady Walkinshaw.
In naming Walkinshaw and Sims to the Commission, House Speaker Laurie Jinkins and Senate Majority Leader Andy Billig have fulfilled their responsibility under the Constitution and state law to select two capable individuals to represent the Democratic Party in this vitally important mapmaking exercise.
“Our state’s approach to drawing our legislative and congressional maps is crucial to the fair and representative outcomes of our democratic process,” said Walkinshaw, the first Latino Redistricting Commissioner. “I’m honored by the appointment and look forward to the work over the coming year.”
“I am honored to be the first woman of color and Black person appointed to serve on Washington’s Redistricting Commission,” said April Sims. “I look forward to working with my fellow Commissioners to develop a process that is fair, transparent, inclusive, and in line with the values of our state.”
It’s now the Republicans’ turn to unveil their picks. The Commission will be almost complete when House Republican Leader J.T. Wilcox and Senate Republican Leader John Braun announce the representatives of their respective caucuses. They have until January 15th to name their selections.
Once they do, the four commissioners will have the joint responsibility of picking the commission’s fifth and final member, who will serve as the nonvoting chair. (The individual chosen to chair the Commission must not be aligned with a political party.) The commissioners will have until January 31st to agree on a chair.
After that, the Commission will begin its work in earnest.
It is the Constitution, and specifically Article II, Section 43, that stipulates that the redistricting process shall be carried out by a bipartisan commission instead of by the Legislature. The Framers of the Seventy-Fourth Amendment (adopted in 1983, which created the process we have now) reasoned that an equally divided commission would have an incentive to bargain and compromise.
However, recognizing that failure is an option, the Framers wisely created a failsafe mechanism. In the event the commission deadlocks and cannot agree on new maps by the deadline (November 15th, 2021), the responsibility of drawing new boundaries shall pass to the Washington State Supreme Court.
The bipartisan commission has never failed to produce a new set of maps before. However, these are very polarized times, and there’s a first time for everything.
Past commissions have gone down to wire in their efforts to strike a deal.
The 2011 Redistricting Commission consisted of Democratic representatives Dean Foster and Tim Ceis, Republican representatives Tom Huff and Slade Gorton, and nonvoting chair Lura Powell. The team of Huff and Gorton are acknowledged by Democratic and Republican strategists alike as having secured favorable maps out of that last round of redistricting, especially at the legislative level.
However, with Slade Gorton and Tom Huff having passed away, Republican legislative leaders will not be able to rely on them next year, not even as advisers to the 2021 commissioners. Republicans may especially feel the loss of Gorton’s legendary keen intellect and negotiating skills.
Another problem the Republicans will have to grapple with, aside from not having Gorton and Huff’s knowledge and expertise at their disposal, is that most of Washington’s recent population growth has been in areas where they are politically weak, chiefly King County, where the Republican Party is all but dead.
Many of the existing legislative districts spanning the state’s populous core are just too big, and will need to shrink geographically to allow a new set of districts of roughly equal numbers of people to be drawn.
Given recent population changes, the Big Three — King, Pierce, and Snohomish counties — are very likely to emerge from this round of redistricting with more political power in the Washington State Legislature than they have today.
The congressional map consists of ten districts, and Washington is not in line for a new one this year like it was last time, so the changes to that map may not be as significant. The best the Republicans can probably hope for is a map that gives them what they already have: two solidly red districts and one that leans red.
The ideal outcome for Democrats is eight congressional districts that are either safely Democratic or are competitive enough for Democratic candidates to win.
If you find redistricting fascinating and have always wondered what it’d be like to try to draw the maps, then give our friend Dave Bradlee’s Redistricting App a try. It’s extremely well put together and not difficult to learn how to use.