NPI's Cascadia Advocate

Offering commentary and analysis from Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's unconventional perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Tuesday, September 21st, 2021

Washington’s Redistricting Commissioners have released their proposed legislative maps

The maps are here, the maps are here!

This after­noon, Wash­ing­ton’s four Redis­trict­ing Com­mis­sion­ers released their pro­posed new bound­aries for the state’s forty-nine leg­isla­tive dis­tricts, which each send two rep­re­sen­ta­tives and one sen­a­tor to the state­house in Olympia.

The pro­pos­als are intend­ed to give Wash­ing­to­ni­ans some­thing to inspect and cri­tique as the Com­mis­sion moves towards try­ing to reach a con­sen­sus on a final set of maps. The Com­mis­sion has until Novem­ber 15th to reach agree­ment. If it does­n’t, the job of draw­ing the maps will fall to the State Supreme Court.

The 2021 Com­mis­sion con­sists of two Demo­c­ra­t­ic com­mis­sion­ers (April Sims and Brady Walkin­shaw) plus two Repub­li­can com­mis­sion­ers (Paul Graves and Joe Fain) and a non­vot­ing chair (Sarah Augus­tine) as required by the Constitution.

The pro­posed maps are avail­able for view at a web­site pow­ered by City­gate GIS, which uti­lizes Google Maps as its map engine. The links to view are below:

Each com­mis­sion­er also released a state­ment describ­ing their rationale.

The pre­am­bles of each state­ment are as follows:

Com­mis­sion­er Sims’ pro­posed map reflects a com­mit­ment to a val­ues-dri­ven process of rebal­anc­ing the 49 leg­isla­tive dis­tricts of Wash­ing­ton. The map is respon­sive to pub­lic input, gov­ern­ment-to-gov­ern­ment con­sul­ta­tions with Trib­al Coun­cils, and rec­og­nizes the respon­si­bil­i­ty to cre­ate dis­tricts that pro­vide fair rep­re­sen­ta­tion for com­mu­ni­ties of interest.

Com­mis­sion­er Graves’ map is faith­ful to the legal guide­lines gov­ern­ing redis­trict­ing because it focus­es on com­mu­ni­ties of inter­est and is not drawn to favor either par­ty or incum­bents. Graves’s map increas­es the over­all num­ber of com­pet­i­tive districts—those with­in 3 per­cent of 50/50, using an aver­age of the 2020 statewide race results that pit­ted a Demo­c­rat against a Repub­li­can — to 11, near­ly dou­bling the cur­rent six swing districts.

Com­mis­sion­er Walkin­shaw’s pro­posed map reflects a val­ues-dri­ven com­mit­ment to fair and effec­tive rep­re­sen­ta­tion in Wash­ing­ton State. The map is cen­tered on the core belief, that is also expressed in the Com­mis­sion’s statute, that elec­toral rep­re­sen­ta­tion is strongest when com­mu­ni­ties of inter­est are unit­ed. The plan is respon­sive to pub­lic input and gov­ern­ment-to-gov­ern­ment con­sul­ta­tion with Trib­al nations over the last sev­er­al months.

Pub­lic edu­ca­tion is the para­mount duty of Wash­ing­ton State gov­ern­ment. To reflect that con­sti­tu­tion­al direc­tive, Com­mis­sion­er Fain’s map places exist­ing school dis­trict bound­aries at the cor­ner­stone of his leg­isla­tive frame­work. The pro­pos­al pro­tects close to three-quar­ters of all school dis­tricts in Wash­ing­ton from being split between mul­ti­ple leg­isla­tive dis­tricts to give greater voice to stu­dents, edu­ca­tors, and par­ents in state gov­ern­ment. There is no greater com­mu­ni­ty of inter­est than our pub­lic schools.

Adopt­ing the mantra of “com­pet­i­tive­ness,”, Graves and Fain have sought to cre­ate leg­isla­tive maps that would give Repub­li­cans the best shot pos­si­ble at recap­tur­ing one or more cham­bers in the statehouse.

Both Repub­li­can maps are obvi­ous ger­ry­man­ders, says past North­west Pro­gres­sive Insti­tute pres­i­dent Robert Cruick­shank, who not­ed that putting Bain­bridge Island in a Seat­tle-based leg­isla­tive dis­trict makes absolute­ly no sense.

“The Repub­li­can com­mis­sion­ers on the Redis­trict­ing Com­mis­sion both attempt to aggres­sive­ly ger­ry­man­der Seat­tle — they both pro­pose adding Bain­bridge Island to Seat­tle leg­isla­tive dis­tricts. Joe Fain chops the 36th, one of most pro­gres­sive Wash­ing­ton leg­isla­tive dis­tricts, into three LDs to dilute its pow­er,” he tweet­ed.

Unlike Vashon Island, which is in King Coun­ty, Bain­bridge Island is in Kit­sap Coun­ty. It has his­tor­i­cal­ly not been in the same leg­isla­tive or con­gres­sion­al dis­tricts as Seat­tle neigh­bor­hoods. Speak­ing of Vashon, it would stay in the 34th Dis­trict in most of the map pro­pos­als, except for Brady Walkin­shaw’s, which odd­ly puts it in the 26th Leg­isla­tive Dis­trict, which is a swing Pierce-Kit­sap district.

Among the most inter­est­ing choic­es in the Graves map is the cre­ation of a 13th Dis­trict that stretch­es from King Coun­ty all the way through Cen­tral Wash­ing­ton into East­ern Wash­ing­ton. It’s quite the dis­trict. Take a look:

Paul Graves' proposed legislative districts map (2021)

Screen­shot of Paul Graves’ col­or-cod­ed leg­isla­tive dis­trict map. The 13th is the pink-hued mon­stros­i­ty in the middle.)

“We appre­ci­ate the hard work of the Redis­trict­ing Com­mis­sion­ers to draft the map pro­pos­als pre­sent­ed today,” said Wash­ing­ton State Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty Chair Tina Pod­lodows­ki. “It’s dis­ap­point­ing that the Repub­li­can com­mis­sion­ers appar­ent­ly decid­ed not to fol­low the direc­tion of the law and the mis­sion of the Redis­trict­ing Com­mis­sion. The [Repub­li­can cohort] has drawn effec­tive­ly non-con­tigu­ous maps and have pri­or­i­tized their own polit­i­cal and elec­toral objec­tives above the mis­sion of the Com­mis­sion as actu­al­ly defined in the Revised Code of Washington.”

“The job of the Com­mis­sion is to respect com­mu­ni­ties of inter­est, pub­lic com­ment, munic­i­pal­i­ties and coun­ties, and not the GOP’s polit­i­cal objec­tives. Maps that don’t fol­low the statute aren’t pur­su­ing com­pet­i­tive­ness, they’re ger­ry­man­der­ing. The GOP com­mis­sion­ers should go back to the draw­ing board and try pro­duc­ing maps that respect the law.”

The rel­e­vant RCW cit­ed by the Wash­ing­ton State Democ­rats con­tains this clause, which Graves high­light­ed in a tweet:

The com­mis­sion shall exer­cise its pow­ers to pro­vide fair and effec­tive rep­re­sen­ta­tion and to encour­age elec­toral com­pe­ti­tion. The com­mis­sion’s plan shall not be drawn pur­pose­ly to favor or dis­crim­i­nate against any polit­i­cal par­ty or group.

Graves and Fain argue their maps “encour­age elec­toral com­pe­ti­tion.” Pod­lodows­ki con­tends that their maps are “drawn pur­pose­ly to favor” the Repub­li­can Party.

Note that both char­ac­ter­i­za­tions can be simul­ta­ne­ous­ly true.

These are, as a reminder, not the final maps, so Fain and Graves have some room to gal­lop in terms of throw­ing ideas out there just as Sims and Walkin­shaw do.

How­ev­er, in our view, if the final maps look any­thing like what they’ve pro­posed, the Com­mis­sion’s work would be open to a legal challenge.

While there are a num­ber of dif­fer­ences and diver­gences in the two Demo­c­ra­t­ic maps, one impor­tant area where they are in agree­ment is the state’s north­west cor­ner. Both Demo­c­ra­t­ic maps would bring the San Juans into the 10th Leg­isla­tive Dis­trict, cre­at­ing a super-island dis­trict that would also include Fidal­go Island in Skag­it Coun­ty and Whid­bey and Camano Islands in Island County.

The 10th is cur­rent­ly a swing dis­trict with one Demo­c­ra­t­ic rep­re­sen­ta­tive, one Repub­li­can rep­re­sen­ta­tive, and one Repub­li­can state sen­a­tor. The dis­trict would become much more winnable for Democ­rats with these changes, giv­ing Democ­rats a good shot at pick­ing up a state Sen­ate seat there in 2024.

Mean­while, Belling­ham would be divid­ed up between the 40th and 42nd to keep What­com Coun­ty friend­ly turf for the Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty, and give Democ­rats an oppor­tu­ni­ty to pick up the Sen­ate seat cur­rent­ly held by extrem­ist Doug Ericksen.

Next week, the Redis­trict­ing Com­mis­sion is sched­uled to release a set of con­gres­sion­al maps to accom­pa­ny the pro­posed leg­isla­tive maps. The Com­mis­sion will be accept­ing pub­lic tes­ti­mo­ny on all the maps for the next few weeks.

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