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Richland woman named chair of redistricting panel

Sat., Jan. 29, 2011

OLYMPIA – Lura Powell, of Richland, who serves on the board of the Life Sciences Discovery Fund, was named chairwoman of the state Redistricting Commission on Friday.

Powell, former director of the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, was the unanimous choice of the four commission members. She serves as the nonvoting leader of the commission, which will redraw the lines for Washington’s congressional and legislative districts based on the results of the 2010 Census.

Powell described herself as bipartisan – “I’ve had fundraisers for Democrats and Republicans” – but not a political junkie.

“I’ve found working with the legislative process to be fascinating,” she said.

Trained as an analytical chemist, she’s a retired federal worker who moved to the Tri-Cities from Maryland in 2000.

Under state law, each of the commission’s four voting members was selected by a legislative leader: the Senate majority and minority leaders, the House speaker and the House minority leader. All four of them are men, from Western Washington, which has prompted some questions about gender and geographical balance on the commission. As a woman from Eastern Washington, she answers those questions as “a two-fer,” she said.

She also has experience running boards and commissions.

“Will everybody always agree on everything? Probably not,” she said. “You wouldn’t want to rubber stamp everything.”

The law requires the commission to begin monthly meetings in April; they can start earlier if the population breakdowns from the 2010 Census are available.

Their task may be complicated by U.S. Supreme Court rulings that seem to favor dividing legislative districts for state representatives in half and electing one House member from each. Under state law, both House members are elected by the whole district, as is the state senator.

“I can see the possibility of a voting rights lawsuit,” former U.S. Sen. Slade Gorton, a commission member, said.

Legal staff should research it, member Dean Foster said. “I think we have to be careful about anticipating actions by creative lawyers.”

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