OLYMPIA – A plan to redraw Washington’s congressional districts would create a competitive seat in northwest Washington, anchor a new district in Olympia and create the state’s first majority-minority district in the Seattle area.
The proposal released Wednesday dramatically reshapes the map on the western side of the state to make room for the new 10th Congressional District, which was allocated to the state after a decade of population growth. The 1st District being vacated by Democratic Rep. Jay Inslee now stretches east of the Interstate 5 corridor, from the wealthy enclave of Medina to rural King County to the northern border.
That composition makes the 1st District a swing seat that both parties will be targeting in 2012.
Democratic Commissioner Tim Ceis, who agreed to the plan with Republican counterpart Slade Gorton, said he expected that district to be the one to watch. Several candidates have already lined up to campaign for the open seat.
“I tend to think it’s a swing Democratic district,” Ceis said. “I’m sure Mr. Gorton thinks it’s a swing Republican district.”
The map essentially leaves four comfortably Republican districts – the 3rd, 4th, 5th and 8th – and five comfortably Democratic ones along the I-5 corridor from Olympia to Bellingham and on the Olympic Peninsula. All incumbents would remain living in the districts they represent, although thousands of voters would be living under new representation.
By centering the new 10th District around Olympia, negotiators have opened a lane for Denny Heck, a former chief of staff to ex-Gov. Booth Gardner who immediately announced his campaign for the seat with the backing of state Democrats. That district also stretches up to parts of Tacoma.
Ceis and Gorton said they both sought to create a competitive seat using different criteria – from voting patterns to geography to demographic trends. They both had initially proposed ways that their parties would claim an extra seat under the new maps.
“I didn’t get everything I wanted,” Gorton said.
“What a coincidence. Neither did I,” Ceis responded.
The 9th District, currently represented by Rep. Adam Smith, will become the state’s first majority-minority district because it is slightly less than 50 percent white, mainly due to large blocs of Asians and blacks. It covers areas south and east of Seattle, including Federal Way, Renton and Bellevue.
Negotiators said they created the minority district after repeatedly hearing the request in public testimony.
Redistricting plans are coming together around the country, in a process that takes place every 10 years to ensure each district has a balanced population.
Washington’s commission comprises two Republican appointees and two Democratic appointees. At least three of them must agree on the maps to approve them by a New Year’s Day deadline, and the two commissioners who were not involved in the congressional process declined to say Wednesday whether they would support it, noting that they have not had a chance to fully review the proposal.
If the panel fails to reach an agreement, the state Supreme Court will take control of the process. If the commission does reach an agreement, the Legislature will have an opportunity to make minor modifications.
Two of the members who focused on legislative boundaries previously agreed to details on districts in Western Washington that would displace five incumbent lawmakers. They are still working on the eastern side of the state.
The commission is still inviting members of the public to comment on the plan, both online and in person.