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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Commission starts work of redrawing district lines in Washington state

OLYMPIA – Washington’s once-in-a-decade process of redrawing congressional and legislative district boundaries gets underway Wednesday, with the first official meeting of the state Redistricting Commission.

The four appointed commissioners – one each named by the leader of a legislative caucus – will have about 10 months to rearrange the state’s 10 congressional districts and 49 legislative districts to reflect changes in population that will show up in the 2020 Census. They’ll have a virtual meeting at 4 p.m., which will be broadcast on TVW, the state’s public access channel.

The final census numbers aren’t available yet, but based on preliminary estimates, Washington didn’t grow enough to get an additional congressional seat, as it did in 2010, 1990 and 1980. But the population growth in Western Washington has outpaced Eastern Washington.

Although the districts will be based on the number of residents reported by the census, not voters, the results of last November’s election hint at significant differences among the current congressional districts. In the 7th Congressional District, which covers parts of King and Snohomish counties, 466,462 voters cast ballots in a relatively uncontested race that returned Democrat Pramila Jayapal to the House. In Central Washington’s 4th Congressional District, which had a similarly noncompetitive race featuring incumbent Republican Dan Newhouse, 305,263 voters cast ballots.

In Eastern Washington’s 5th District, 404,360 voters cast ballots.

The state has 49 legislative districts that elect two House members and one senator. That number hasn’t changed for the House since 1933, and for the Senate since 1956, when separate districts for the upper chamber were abandoned. It isn’t likely to change in the foreseeable future.

But every 10 years those legislators get a larger number of constituents. When the lines were drawn in 2011, a district held about 137,200 people. This year, based on the most recent population estimates, they’ll contain about 157,000 people.

Handling that task will be four appointees from Western Washington:

Brady Walkinshaw, a former program officer for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and former state representative from Seattle in 2013-16 who ran unsuccessfully for Congress in 2016. Currently the chief executive officer of a national environmental nonprofit, he was appointed by Senate Majority Leader Andy Billig of Spokane.

April Sims, secretary treasurer of the State Labor Council, making her the second-highest ranking labor leader in the state. She’s the council’s former political and strategic campaign director, and former field mobilization director. Sims lives in Tacoma, and was appointed by House Speaker Laurie Jinkins of Tacoma.

Joe Fain, an attorney from Auburn who served in the state Senate from 2011-2018. For much of his time in the Senate, he was the Republican’s floor leader, a position that helped control the flow of legislation when the GOP was in the majority and managed opposition debate when they were in the minority. He was appointed by Senate Minority Leader John Braun of Centralia.

Paul Graves, an attorney from Fall City who served in the House in 2017-18 and was a founding member of one of the state’s first charter schools. He’s currently the president of Enterprise Washington, a campaign organization for the state’s business community. He was appointed by House Minority Leader J.T. Wilcox.

Billig said he made his selection after months of interviews with various candidates. It’s difficult to find someone who is a good negotiator, collaborative, respected, has familiarity with the state’s political structures and is willing to work for free. The commissioner’s job comes with no salary.

“Our priority is fairness,” Billig said.

The fact that all four appointees are from Western Washington follows the pattern for the commission since the first one met in 1991. Asked how Eastern Washington residents, who will likely lose representation to the more populous West Side, should feel confident their interests will be represented, Republican leaders said Tuesday their members, who come largely from Eastern Washington, will be providing feedback to their appointees.

Having commissioners from the Central Puget Sound is “not necessarily unusual, historically,” Braun noted.

In fact, since the first redistricting commission was formed in 1991, no appointed commissioner has come from outside the Puget Sound, although the panel sometimes selects a chair from Eastern or Central Washington.