November 6, 2011 in City

Spin Control: New district maps hand out party favors

By The Spokesman-Review
 

OLYMPIA – Tuesday is Election Day 2011 – or what passes for one in a state that mailed out its ballots two weeks ago and will spend more than two weeks counting them – but it could be a key day for Election Days 2012-’21.

That morning is the next meeting of the state Redistricting Commission, which is weighing two proposals to redraw congressional and legislative lines in Washington.

Two months ago, each of the commission’s four voting members drew up one map each for congressional districts and one each for legislative districts. Last month, they whittled down the options so there are now two each, one set from the Democratic members and one from the Republican members.

Eastern Washington voters can be forgiven for ignoring the congressional maps. The commissioners are divided on how to re-divide the West Side to accommodate a new district. Eastern Washington’s 5th Congressional District should look pretty much like it does now for the next 10 years.

The real maps to watch are the legislative districts, because each party’s proposal messes with East Side districts – try to contain your shock! – in a way that would disadvantage the opposing party.

The latest Republican map, which as far as Spokane County goes is pretty much the map first proposed by former Sen. Slade Gorton in September, divides the city of Spokane among four legislative districts, so that none of them is wholly contained within the city limits. This is a neat bit of gerrymandering, because it subdivides the city’s strong Democratic precincts and mixes them with heavy-voting Republican precincts from the ’burbs and rural areas.

Gorton described this as a way of making all the Spokane districts competitive, but based on a computer analysis of election results The Spokesman-Review did a few years ago, the races it’s most likely to make competitive are the legislative primaries, for Republicans.

The Democrats’ is a bit more transparent, at least as far as Eastern Washington Republicans are concerned. It keeps the 3rd District within the city of Spokane and a likely Democratic stronghold. It messes with the GOP in southeastern Washington, by moving Walla Walla and Columbia counties out of one district and annexing them to the district with Adams, Whitman, Garfield and Columbia counties.

So what, you might say. Those are all good Republican, wheat-raising counties, with a few vineyards thrown in and a state institution or two to watch.

But that little rearranging of counties places two high-ranking Republican senators, Minority Leader Mike Hewitt of Walla Walla and Floor Leader Mark Schoesler of Ritzville, into the same district, as well as four sitting Republican representatives, Susan Fagan of Pullman, Joe Schmick of Colfax, Terry Nealy of Dayton and Maureen Walsh of Walla Walla. Half of them would be out of jobs.

If you think either of these examples of the redistribution of voter wealth is mere coincidence, then you probably believe Costco and the nation’s liquor distributors are spending tens of millions of dollars telling you how to vote on Initiative 1183 out of sheer love for the democratic process.

These are just drafts. Commissioners are still drawing and redrawing lines. They have to come up with maps to which at least three of the four will say yes, and right now it’s hard to see how either Democrat will cave to the GOP plan or one Republican will OK the Democratic map.

None of the four voting members of the commission actually lives in Eastern Washington. These little “peculiarities” won’t go unnoticed, however, because Gorton was appointed to the panel by Hewitt and Commissioner Tim Ceis was the choice of Sen. Lisa Brown of Spokane’s 3rd District.

Tuesday’s meeting isn’t likely to bring things down to a single legislative map, a spokeswoman for the commission said. But the meeting, which starts at 10:30 a.m. in Olympia, does give people a chance to check up on what the commissioners are doing and weigh in on what they’ve done so far. The meeting will be carried live on TVW, the state’s version of C-SPAN, and webcast live on the commission’s website, www.redistricting.wa.gov.

Spin Control, a weekly column by Olympia Bureau Chief Jim Camden, also appears online with daily items, reader comments and videos at www.spokesman.com/spincontrol.


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