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Sunday, February 23, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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News >  Spokane

Conservative precincts added into Democratic stronghold

Districts to watch: 3rd and 6th

Shifts in Spokane-area legislative districts drawn by a state commission and approved earlier this year by the Legislature. (Graphic by Molly Quinn)
Shifts in Spokane-area legislative districts drawn by a state commission and approved earlier this year by the Legislature. (Graphic by Molly Quinn)

For 20 years, Francis Avenue has been the northernmost boundary of Spokane’s 3rd Legislative District, marking the dividing line between the reliably Republican 6th District and the strongly Democratic 3rd.

That’s basically still true for north Spokane voters as they prepare for the Aug. 7 primary in new districts drawn after the 2010 census. With one exception.

A loop that swings north on Austin Road then back south on Five Mile Road pushed much of the city’s Five Mile neighborhood out of the old 6th District and into the remade 3rd District. That shifted what a computer analysis shows are some of the county’s most reliably Republican precincts into the Democratic-leaning 3rd District.

In Olympia, where legislators watched redistricting as if their futures depended on it – because in some cases it did – this loop is generally known as the Riccelli bump.

It’s nicknamed that because it encompasses the home of Marcus Riccelli, a Democratic legislative aide who was openly contemplating a run against incumbent Republican state Rep. John Ahern in the 6th District.

Redistricting made that anticipated matchup impossible.

But things never work out exactly as planned; Riccelli considered but ultimately rejected the idea of moving a few blocks to stay in the 6th and run against Ahern, who many thought vulnerable. Then Ahern retired, leaving his seat open and setting off a scramble among Republican hopefuls.

Next, 3rd District Sen. Lisa Brown, Riccelli’s boss, retired. Democratic state Rep. Andy Billig jumped into that race against Republican Spokane Councilwoman Nancy McLaughlin for the district’s Senate seat. Riccelli entered the five-way primary for Billig’s old House seat.

A few miles to the south and east, Democrat Amy Biviano is running against two-term Republican Rep. Matt Shea in the 4th District. Two years ago she couldn’t have done that, because she lived in the 6th District. Biviano didn’t move, but district lines did, pushing her Valley View neighborhood into the conservative 4th District.

On the West Plains, the voters in Airway Heights went from the 7th District, which sprawls across all or parts of five northeast Washington counties, to the 6th District, which is basically an urban district in Spokane; those in Cheney went from the 9th – all or parts of six rural Palouse counties – to the 6th.

The shift in boundaries, combined with a change in the way the Spokane County Elections Office numbers its precincts, means more than half of the county’s voters find themselves in new districts or new precincts.

Although the true impact of these new lines won’t be known until this fall’s elections, a computer analysis of recent elections suggest the 3rd and the 6th could be the most affected.

For this story, The Spokesman-Review compared the precinct votes for president and governor in 2008, and for U.S. Senate, U.S. House, and Spokane County commissioner in 2010, then analyzed the totals with special mapping software to compare the old and new legislative precincts.

One significant change in the 3rd was the addition of the city’s Five Mile precincts – the so-called Riccelli bump – which in 2008 and 2010 had some of the largest margins for Republican candidates.

“It’s tough territory for a Democrat,” conceded Riccelli, who is his party’s precinct committee officer in that area. Those heavily Republican precincts might be offset, however, by strongly Democratic precincts between Francis and Garland from Maple Street to Northwest Boulevard, which were also shifted into the 3rd from the 6th, he said.

McLaughlin, the Republican councilwoman, and Billig, the Democratic legislator, agreed that the political leanings of the 3rd might not have changed very much with the switching of precincts and the race is more likely to come down to the candidate.

“Voters I talk to are more willing to look at the person rather than the party,” McLaughlin said. Voters in strongly Democratic northeast Spokane, for example, elected Mike Fagan, an active Republican, to the council last year, she said.

Billig said he can’t rest on party loyalty: “I’m still going to have to run a robust campaign and work really hard.”

With its population centered in the Spokane Valley, the 4th District experienced the least change in boundaries. And the analysis of voting patterns showed it’s unlikely to shift out of its strongly Republican trends.

Although all three Republican legislators face re-election this year, Biviano is the only Democrat mounting a challenge. She lives in a southwest corner of the city of Spokane Valley that trends slightly Democratic, based on recent voting trends. But it is a small peninsula of blue jutting out from precincts in the city of Spokane into the sea of solid Republican red in the Valley.

It is has been attached to three different legislative districts in the last three decades, and Biviano notes she can still walk a few blocks south and be in the 6th District or a few blocks west and be in the 3rd.

Shea, the only Republican legislator in the district with a challenger, said most analyses of the new district say it’s shifted only a fraction of a percent in its strong GOP leaning.

For decades, Spokane’s 6th District was among the most reliably Republican in the state, going nearly 70 years without electing a Democrat. That changed in 2006, when the district had a Democratic senator. The district elected one Democratic representative in 2008. But it went back to a Republican district in 2010, and redistricting could keep it that way.

That’s because along with jettisoning some strongly Democratic precincts north of downtown Spokane and on the lower South Hill, the 6th expanded onto the West Plains. While the cities on that plateau had mixed partisan totals in elections studied – the Cheney precincts that include Eastern Washington University are strongly Democratic – the suburban and rural precincts are strongly Republican, as is Fairchild Air Force Base, which the district also picked up.

State Rep. Kevin Parker, a Republican running unopposed for his third term in the 6th, said he’s heard some speculation that suggests the new boundaries make the district slightly more Republican, or that it might be “a push.”

While it picked up those reliably Republican precincts to the west, the district also lost some strongly GOP precincts in Mead to the 7th District. That rural northeastern Washington district rarely fields strong Democratic candidates for the Legislature, and general elections are sometimes a face-off between two Republicans.

Parker said he thinks voters on the West Plains probably have more in common with those a few miles to the east in the Spokane suburbs than with rural voters in the Palouse or the northeast counties. But he said he has heard some of his former constituents in the north Spokane suburbs wondering about their shift into the mostly rural 7th.

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