After months of meetings, hundreds of hours drawing boundary lines and major last-minute compromises, the bipartisan committee deciding how to split Spokane County into five commissioner districts has reached an informal agreement on a final map.
The unofficial final map creates three largely rural districts, one each for the northern, southeastern and southwestern thirds of the county, and two long, thin districts for Spokane.
Based on recent election results, it appears likely the new map would yield Republican commissioners in the north and southeastern districts and Democratic commissioners in the Spokane districts.
The fifth district is more competitive than the other four. It lumps the West Plains together with sizable chunks of northwestern and southern Spokane, and has historically leaned Republican by 5.5 percentage points.
That advantage of 5.5 points in the swing district means the GOP will have a good chance at winning a majority on the inaugural five-member commission.
In the past, Spokane County has had three commissioners who run in district-specific primary elections but countywide general elections. In 2022, voters will elect five commissioners who will take office in 2023 and represent one district each.
The redistricting committee is tasked with drawing lines that divide the county into five districts.
Because roughly 55% of county voters are Republicans and 45% are Democrats, the committee members decided it’d be fair to draw a map that will likely result in two red districts, two blue districts and a Republican-leaning swing district.
At the end of their Thursday meeting, the committee members had agreed on a final map but reached an impasse over how to stagger the terms for new commissioners.
Because voters will elect all five commissioners at once in 2022, the committee had to decide which districts would start off with two-year terms and which ones would have four-year terms from the beginning.
Republican-appointed committee members Jim McDevitt and Robin Ball argued that, because they’d agreed to a swing district, that swing district should start off with a four-year term.
Democrat-appointed committee member Natasha Hill said doing that would look like incumbent protection. No one mentioned the incumbent by name, but Spokane County Commissioner Al French lives in the swing district that partners the West Plains with Spokane’s westernmost and southernmost areas.
Hill and her fellow Democrat-appointed committee member, Brian McClatchey, said they’d sign off on a four-year term for the swing district in exchange for reducing the five-point Republican advantage there.
During the Friday meeting, the committee members reached a compromise. McDevitt and Ball said they’d be willing to let the swing district start off with a two-year term in exchange for widening the Republican advantage by a few tenths of a percentage point. McClatchey and Hill agreed, so the committee members tweaked a few lines to make the district a smidgen less competitive.
The committee members informally agreed that two districts will start with four-year terms – the southeastern district that will likely elect a Republican and the eastern Spokane district that will likely elect a Democrat.
Three districts will start with two-year terms: the Republican-leaning swing district, the northern district that will likely elect a Republican and the western Spokane district that will likely elect a Democrat.
Barring unexpected changes, the important part of the redistricting process is essentially done. The committee has to formalize its map and officially vote on it next week.
“We need to look at them (the map and the term lengths) one final time,” McClatchey said. “I think it will be exactly as we described.”
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