Spin Control

Redistricting: Lege districts may be the hard ones

Population in the state's 49 legislative districts according to the 2010 Census (Jim Camden/The Spokesman-Review)
Population in the state's 49 legislative districts according to the 2010 Census (Jim Camden/The Spokesman-Review)

Spokane-area legislative boundaries could change significantly by next year to make up for population shifts from the city’s urban core to the suburbs.

While much of the attention so far on the 2010 U.S. Census figures has centered on Washington gaining its tenth congressional district, the state’s Redistricting Commission may have even more work to do on redrawing legislative districts. The state isn’t adding to the 49 legislative districts it has had since 1933.

“Ten is easier than 49. There’s more areas to quibble over,” Dean Foster, a member of this year’s commission and the 2000 panel that redrew lines after the previous census...

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Since the commission set boundaries 10 years ago for nearly equal districts, urban areas around the state have either lost population or grown much slower than the surrounding suburbs. Spokane’s 3rd District, which covers downtown Spokane and many surrounding neighborhoods, is now the state’s second smallest in terms of population; in a state where growth has averaged about 14 percent over the last decade, the 3rd has grown three-tenths of 1 percent.
To meet the target for an average legislative district in the coming decade, it will have to pick up some 16,635 people from the surrounding neighborhoods in the 4th and 6th districts.
“We have to grow,” Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown, who has represented the 3rd since 1993.
Those two districts have grown slightly faster than the state, but not enough to offset the deficit in the 3rd, so as they give up more and more of their population, they’ll have to push into the 7th District to the north and northwest, and into the 9th to the south and southwest. Both of those largely rural districts have grown slightly slower than the state average.
“It’s inevitable that I’ll lose some of Spokane County,” said Senate Republican Floor Leader Mark Schoesler of Ritzville, also first elected in 1993. “But I think the 9th and the 7th will still have part Spokane County.”
If the redistricting commission avoids splitting rural counties between two districts, the 9th will likely make up for any population losses from Spokane County with gains from Franklin County.
The remapping won’t be as dramatic as 1992, Brown said, when Spokane lost a whole district, the 5th, to suburban King County because of rapid population growth in Western Washington.
Eastern Washington isn’t likely to lose a whole district this time around, in part because of rapid growth in Franklin and Benton counties, said Richard Morrill, a professor emeritus of geography at the University of Washington, much of it by people who listed themselves on the Census as Hispanic or Latino.
 “The interesting question is whether there will be a district with a Latino majority,” he added.
Schoesler doesn’t see that as the most logical outcome of redistricting: “I think you’d have to work at it.”
Legislative leaders will suggest new boundaries to the redistricting commission, although the board isn’t required to follow them. The bottom line of such suggestions is to protect incumbents, Morrill said.
“Not everybody can be saved,” he added. “There’s some upheaval every 10 years.”

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Jim Camden
Jim Camden is the Olympia bureau chief, covering the Legislature and state government. He also is a political columnist and blogger for Spin Control.

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