Former U.S. Sen. Slade Gorton had a logical, sensible suggestion last week when releasing his proposal for Washington’s new congressional districts.
So logical and sensible, in fact, that it has almost no chance of happening.
Gorton suggested the state renumber its 10 districts in such a way that they make some logical sense. Start on the West Coast with the 1st District, move east and finish at the Idaho border.
In other words, most Spokesman-Review readers in Washington would find themselves in the 10th District rather than the 5th.
Right now, the numbering system defies any semblance of logic or numeracy. The 1st and 2nd are in the Puget Sound; the 3rd stretches from Olympia down to Vancouver; central Washington has the 4th; Eastern Washington the 5th. Then it’s back to the Puget Sound for the other numbers, fit in wherever some previous commission could cobble together enough people when a new district was granted the state.
Originally, the districts did make sense. When Washington had two, 1 was on the West Side and 2 on the East Side. Things stayed pretty logical until Pugetopolis started outgrowing the sunnier side of the state and a series of districts had to be carved out of there.
Gorton didn’t suggest renumbering the legislative districts, although they’re even more jumbled. Originally those numbers started in the east and moved west. Slowly, some of the single-digit districts were plucked from this side and dropped across the Cascades.
Elected officials tend to be fond of their district numbers. Sometimes campaign speech writers or political pundits come up with catchy alliterative titles, like the Fighting 1st or the Sunny 2nd.
But it’s not clear how much the residents care about them. Raise your hand if you know which legislative district you’re in. Now keep it up if you know which one you inhabited in 2000 and 1990, the last two times the districts were redrawn.
Even if you didn’t move, the districts did. In 1991, Spokane County lost a legislative district, the 5th, to King County. Keep your hand up if you know whether you used to live in the 5th Legislative District.
Not too many hands up out there.
So it wouldn’t do violence to the body politic to renumber the districts to conform to geographic logic. But it’s unlikely it will happen. The other three commissioners were somewhat less than lukewarm to the proposal.
Democrat Dean Foster, another redistricting commissioner who served on the panel 10 years ago, said he recalled one of the Republican members in 2001 had passed on a similar suggestion. The origin of that proposal?
Arguing against the flow
While much of the testimony at last week’s redistricting commission was about creating a congressional district in which a majority of the population would be racial or ethnic minorities, there was one suggestion that went against conventional wisdom sort of like a salmon working upstream.
Zach Smith argued that districts should be “safe” for one party or the other, rather than trying to make as many of them “swing” districts where each election is potentially up for grabs.
Residents get better representation when a district is strongly Democratic or Republican, Smith said. Then elected officials can vote their conscience and don’t “always have to look over their shoulders.”
Not sure that’s what the Founding Fathers had in mind when they set up the republic. Politicians looking over their shoulders to what the voters want is what elections are all about.