NPI's Cascadia Advocate

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

Monday, March 7th, 2022

Redistricting Chair resigns as commissioners deadlock on intervening in federal lawsuit

The 2021 Wash­ing­ton State Redis­trict­ing Com­mis­sion con­tin­ues to be a case study in how not to redraw a set of leg­isla­tive and con­gres­sion­al boundaries.

At its lat­est meet­ing, the four mem­ber com­mis­sion, which is even­ly divid­ed between Democ­rats and Repub­li­cans — lost its non­vot­ing chair, Sarah Augus­tine, while the com­mis­sion­ers dead­locked on respond­ing to a fed­er­al law­suit that alleges the Vot­ing Rights Act was­n’t fol­lowed when the new maps were drawn.

“While I hope my pres­ence on the com­mis­sion for the past thir­teen months has con­tributed to our shared work, now that the pri­ma­ry dri­vers of the process are exter­nal to the com­mis­sion, I believe my role is no longer rel­e­vant. In addi­tion to this con­cern, I must recuse myself from fur­ther par­tic­i­pa­tion because of the cen­tral­i­ty of my com­mu­ni­ty to cur­rent lit­i­ga­tion,” Augus­tine said in a statement.

She also lament­ed that Sec­re­tary of State Steve Hobbs, Sen­ate Major­i­ty Leader Andy Bil­lig, and House Speak­er Lau­rie Jink­ins — all Democ­rats — have declined to defend the Redis­trict­ing Com­mis­sion’s work prod­uct against a fed­er­al law­suit filed by the South­cen­tral Coali­tion of Peo­ple of Col­or for Redis­trict­ing, even though the Leg­is­la­ture vot­ed to adopt the Com­mis­sion’s work prod­uct last month with minor and tech­ni­cal changes by a two-thirds vote of each chamber.

(Hobbs, Jink­ins, and Bil­lig are the named defen­dants in the case.)

“By fail­ing to defend the redis­trict­ing plans agreed to by con­sen­sus, state author­i­ties have cho­sen to under­mine the process and dis­miss the com­pro­mis­es under­tak­en in the pub­lic inter­est,” Augus­tine said.

That is a curi­ous state­ment, giv­en that the Redis­trict­ing Com­mis­sion itself flout­ed Wash­ing­ton’s open meet­ing laws and failed to get its work done by the con­sti­tu­tion­al­ly man­dat­ed dead­line. For a brief peri­od, com­mis­sion­ers tried to pre­tend that they had suc­ceed­ed when they had­n’t, even­tu­al­ly real­ized that was­n’t going to work, and then informed the Supreme Court of their failure.

A few weeks lat­er, the Supreme Court inex­plic­a­bly and irre­spon­si­bly threw the hot pota­to back into their hands and said it was­n’t going to get involved, even though the Con­sti­tu­tion requires the Court to take over map-draw­ing respon­si­bil­i­ties in the event of a fail­ure by the com­mis­sion to get its work done on time.

It is also a curi­ous state­ment giv­en that the Com­mis­sion itself could not reach a con­sen­sus on defend­ing its own work prod­uct. As the state­ment released by the Com­mis­sion goes on to admit: “In a 2–2 vote, Com­mis­sion­ers split on the deci­sion to have the Com­mis­sion inter­vene in the law­suit, essen­tial­ly decid­ing not to inter­vene. The ini­tial hear­ing on the law­suit in U.S. Dis­trict Court is on March 25th, where the pre­sid­ing judge will enter­tain a motion for a pre­lim­i­nary injunc­tion against using the new maps until the case is decided.”

The com­pro­mis­es the com­mis­sion agreed to last year were under­tak­en in the inter­est of the Leg­is­la­ture’s four cau­cus­es, who are pri­mar­i­ly inter­est­ed in incum­bent pro­tec­tion, not the pub­lic inter­est. Our team does­n’t know any­one who has been fol­low­ing the redis­trict­ing saga who would agree with Augustine’s char­ac­ter­i­za­tion. How can some­thing pos­si­bly be defend­ed as being in the pub­lic inter­est when the pub­lic was exclud­ed from the delib­er­a­tions and denied the oppor­tu­ni­ty to pro­vide any com­ment or input on the final maps?

And since Novem­ber, the Com­mis­sion has con­tin­ued to shun pub­lic input.

Every meet­ing of the Com­mis­sion since the Novem­ber imbroglio has been closed to pub­lic com­ment. Notices sent out with each meet­ing announce­ment have said:

There will NOT be a pub­lic com­ment por­tion of this meeting.

That’s nine con­sec­u­tive pub­lic meet­ings, count­ing Novem­ber 15th, with no pub­lic com­ment allowed or accept­ed. But sure, go on and insist that this process has involved “com­pro­mis­es under­tak­en in the pub­lic interest.”

Wash­ing­ton is hard­ly the only state strug­gling with redis­trict­ing this cycle, of course. But unlike swing states like Penn­syl­va­nia, which have clash­ing Repub­li­can leg­isla­tive majori­ties and a Demo­c­ra­t­ic gov­er­nor and Demo­c­ra­t­ic State Supreme Court major­i­ty, Wash­ing­ton has a Demo­c­ra­t­ic state­house trifecta.

Wash­ing­ton’s redis­trict­ing process would like­ly have gone bet­ter if the House and Sen­ate had sim­ply drawn the maps them­selves, as hap­pened in Oregon.

What is abun­dant­ly clear is that the bipar­ti­san Four Cor­ners con­trolled com­mis­sion mod­el is not serv­ing Wash­ing­ton well. The state needs a con­sti­tu­tion­al amend­ment to over­haul how it draws con­gres­sion­al and leg­isla­tive dis­trict maps.

An inde­pen­dent com­mis­sion con­sist­ing of a pan­el with an odd num­ber of vot­ing mem­bers and rep­re­sen­ta­tives who aren’t cho­sen by the cau­cus lead­ers (like what Cal­i­for­nia has) would be a far supe­ri­or sys­tem for the 2031 cycle and beyond.

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