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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

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Sens. Mark Schoesler and Mike Padden: Bill to alter Washington’s redistricting process isn’t needed

By Sens. Mark Schoesler and Mike Padden

As the old saying goes, if it isn’t broken, don’t fix it. That adage certainly applies to our state’s voter-approved redistricting process and a bill moving through the Legislature that seeks to change it.

Our state’s redistricting system dates to 1983 and a ballot measure (Senate Joint Resolution 103) approved by 61 percent of Washington voters. It created a bipartisan, five-person Redistricting Commission that is tasked with redrawing congressional and legislative district boundaries after the U.S. Census has been completed each decade.

It used to be that our state’s political-district boundaries were redrawn by legislators, with little public input or transparency. Not anymore. Each of the four caucuses of the Legislature appoints one member; the fifth member is nonpartisan and serves as the nonvoting chair. The commission assembles each decade in a year ending in “1” and meets until a final redistricting plan is adopted, then is disbanded until the next decade.

In many other states the majority party can use the redistricting process to maintain its grip on power – the term “gerrymandering” refers to that. The voters wisely made Washington’s redistricting system transparent, nonpolitical and effective. Our state’s approach requires that at least one commissioner from each party must agree to the final redistricting plan, which ensures it is bipartisan.

As senators from Eastern Washington districts, we are concerned that House Bill 2575, if enacted, would tip the playing field in a way that benefits Western Washington at the expense of people on the east side of the Cascades. The bill calls for the Redistricting Commission to hold two rounds of public forums. The first would have to include at least 10 forums, with at least one in each of the state’s 10 congressional districts. The second round also would require at least 10 public forums, but nothing would prevent the commission from holding these later forums entirely or mostly in Western Washington. Eastern Washington residents’ voices should not be shortchanged during the redistricting process.

When HB 2575 came to a vote in the House of Representatives recently, Republicans accurately pointed out that our largest congressional districts happen to be central Washington’s 4th District and Eastern Washington’s 5th District. It can take longer for someone to drive from Clarkston or Republic to Spokane than to drive through several of the smaller congressional districts in the Puget Sound region. It’s not fair to change the redistricting process in ways that could benefit residents in more populated areas while disenfranchising those living in remote, sparsely populated regions. If the Redistricting Commission must host more forums and meetings, then let’s make it convenient and equal for everyone, regardless of where they reside.

Any argument that the commission needs to hold more meetings and forums throughout the state is suspect, seeing how the 2011 Redistricting Commission held 18 public forums in 17 cities, including six in Eastern Washington. That 2011 commission also held about 30 meetings. We think the Redistricting Commission did a good job of listening to the public and visiting various parts of Washington during its last iteration nearly a decade ago. In fact, the 2011 commission made one congressional district and one legislative district “majority-minority” districts following testimony – the 9th Congressional District, which stretches from Seattle to Tacoma, and the 15th Legislative District, which is located in part of Yakima County. As we say, if it isn’t broken, don’t fix it.

If this measure is so important, it could have been introduced long before now so there would be time for thorough consideration and to address any potential problems or areas of disagreement. Instead, HB 2575 was introduced less than six weeks ago – which is also less than a year before the next commission’s members will be chosen and start their work. It is rash and risky to push through last-minute alterations to an approach that has been so successful, especially if they could impact candidates and voters in every legislative and congressional district in our state.

To us, House Bill 2575 is a solution looking for a problem. Washington’s redistricting system is fair, and admired and respected throughout our nation. We urge our Senate colleagues to stop this bill from becoming law.

Sen. Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville, represents the 9th Legislative District. Sen. Mike Padden, R-Spokane Valley, represents the 4th Legislative District.