The bipartisan committee redrawing Spokane County’s commissioner districts unveiled two compromise maps Tuesday that simultaneously show progress in negotiations between Republicans and Democrats and an ongoing stalemate on the committee’s most fundamental disagreement.
Spokane County has three commissioners. Those commissioners run in district-specific primary elections but countywide general elections. That arrangement has allowed Republicans to hold all three commissioner seats for over a decade.
A new state law is forcing Spokane County to change both the number of commissioners and how those commissioners are elected. In 2023 – based on the results of elections held in 2022 – the county will move to five districts and each commissioner will represent just one of those districts.
The shift will almost certainly mean at least one Democrat wins a commissioner seat. Based on the draft maps the four redistricting committee members have released so far, it appears likely Democrats will take at least two of the five seats.
The compromise maps released Tuesday show the Republican and Democrat committee members have worked past most of their smaller disagreements.
Republicans modified their map proposal so that it splits Spokane east-west instead of north-south – a change Democrat committee members said was necessary. Democrats have modified their map so that it keeps all of the West Plains cities in one district, and they’ve used U.S. Route 195 as a district boundary – both changes requested by the Republican committee members.
“They (the maps) look fairly close to me,” said Elaine Couture, the nonvoting chair of the five-member committee.
Committee members said they were encouraged to see compromises in the newest draft maps. But while the compromise maps resolve some differences between the Democrat and Republican proposals, the most important redistricting question still looms over the negotiations and threatens to create an impasse between the two sides.
Democrats want two solid blue commissioner districts, two solid red districts and a swing district. Republicans want three solid red districts and two solid blue districts. Both sides argue their proposal would lead to fair representation for residents. Per Washington state law, the committee cannot draw district lines that favor or disfavor any political party.
In presidential elections, roughly 55% of Spokane County voters typically prefer Republicans and 45% prefer Democrats.
Jim McDevitt, one of two Republican-appointed committee members, said that 55%-45% split means Republicans should have three seats and Democrats should have two.
Brian McClatchey, one of the two Democrat-appointed committee members, said that if 55% of voters are Republican, then the GOP should have a shot at not-quite three commissioner seats – in other words, he wants at least one swing district. He has repeatedly emphasized that competitive districts increase voter interest in elections and force elected officials to be responsive to their constituents.
Neither side has expressed a willingness to budge, and while the compromise maps show concessions and progress, their districts aren’t much different politically than their earlier incarnations were.
McDevitt said the Republican compromise map may lead to a 3-2 Republican-Democrat commissioner split. McClatchey said the Democrat compromise map may create two solidly Republican districts, two toss-up districts and one district that leans Democrat.
You can find an analysis by The Spokesman-Review of the two maps in the sidebar attached to this story.
The committee is running out of time to come to an agreement on one final map. The committee members hope to have one draft Tuesday. If that meeting isn’t enough, the committee members will meet multiple times during the week to hammer out a draft final.
Once they have a draft final, the committee has to completely finish the map by Oct. 23.
If the four voting committee members can’t reach an agreement by then, the redistricting process will move on to a state-level committee – a scenario all committee members have said they want to avoid.
If that bipartisan, state-level committee can’t agree on how to slice Spokane into five pieces, the decision will go to court.
Both Democrats and Republicans have said they think that situation can be avoided. They want the map drawn here, in Spokane, by people who know the county well.
“There’s definitely some places where we can find some common ground,” McClatchey said Tuesday after seeing the Republican compromise map. “I’m actually pretty excited about that.”
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