District X, fait accompli
DISTRICT X, FAIT ACCOMPLI: Last week the Gristle observed the continued partitioning and political erasure of Bellingham, the county seat, from county politics.
The proposed plan for legislative representation in Olympia moves an increasing large portion of the city south into the 40th Legislative District. The Washington State Redistricting Commission last week also proposed a similar partition for federal representation in the other Washington, as they smooshed and stretched populations around the state to make room for a new 10th Congressional District.
With less than two hours to spare, members of the Redistricting Commission signed off on agreed plans Sunday evening. Now, through a process approved by voters, the state Legislature has 30 days to evaluate the proposal, but it will take a two-thirds vote to make changes. Other than a few tweaks at the edges proposed by county auditors, the proposal will likely stand and define the next decade of Washington politics.
As the Gristle predicted in December, 2010, the bipartisan commission composed of two Democrats, two Republicans, and a non-voting chair agreed the 10th District should center in Southwest Washington, where population growth has been most robust. Olympia serves as the district’s nucleus. Democrats had favored creating a new district better representing ethnic interests in the Seattle metropolitan area, while Republicans—in particular, former Sen. Slade Gorton—had initially favored the creation of a large rural congressional district across the northern tier that might mirror one dominated by Republican stalwart Doc Hastings in the central portion of the state. And, indeed, talks stalled for weeks as commissioners debated how or whether to draw districts that better represent people of color on both sides of the central Washington divide.
The compromise proposal creates a fairly dynamic new district in the mixing zone of conservative and progressive values in south central Puget Sound, with the Democratic stronghold of Olympia bounded on every side by conservative leanings.
Gorton gets his very large rural district in the north by rejiggering our own 2nd Congressional District. The new proposal pressures Bellingham out of Whatcom County to form alliances and allegiances with other coastal communities in Skagit, Snohomish, and the island counties.
Formerly representing western Seattle and Kitsap County, the newly drawn 1st Congressional District would span the rural portions of four counties down the backbone of the Cascades foothills. The addition of cities like Kirkland and Redmond keep the district from drifting terribly to the right, politically.
“It may be the most evenly divided congressional district in the United States of America,” Gorton said, unveiling the plan last week.
Commissioner Tim Ceis, a Democrat, concurred. He predicted, “It will be a very competitive district.”
With no incumbent as Congressman Jay Inslee shifts his focus to the governor’s mansion, “It will be a race to watch in 2012, there is no doubt about that,” Ceis predicted. Already several new candidates have murmured their intention to run on short notice for Congress.
We confess the proposal is a pretty one, with Whatcom, Skagit, and Snohomish counties suddenly gaining two representatives in Congress, even though it continues to isolate Bellingham from the doings of Whatcom County proper. For all that, the division is a logical and sensible one, with Bellingham sharing more in common with population centers along the Interstate-5 corridor and the coast than with rural agricultural interests east.
Congressman Rick Larsen, who has always been pulled down in the polls by those conservative rural interests, is no doubt overjoyed by the proposal. The Democrat can now build a more powerful coalition among progressive voters centered around islands and inlets.
“The newly reconfigured 2nd Congressional District is a straightforward solution to the reality that the district needed to shrink in population,” Larsen said in a press release. The commission, he noted, adds new areas in south Snohomish County to the 2nd District including Lynnwood, Mountlake Terrace, and the rest of Mukilteo.
“I currently represent about 90 percent of the constituents of the reconfigured district,” he noted.
Larsen predicted the change would help him focus on job creation as Boeing aerospace operations are pulled more strongly into the 2nd District. It might yield additional dividends for transit and light rail service though the corridor, more strongly uniting northern coastal communities with southbound commuters. And though he didn’t mention it, the change likely spells more coordinated federal assistance for the cleanup of Puget Sound.
“Washington’s newly drawn 1st District is ugly but lovable,” said Dwight Pelz, chair of the Washington State Democrats. “Stretching from King County to Canada, the First will be a Democratic leaning district.”
State and local Republicans disagreed, predicting the new 1st District would lean slightly conservative.
Reading between the lines in statements and those on a map, our region was not the battleground for redistricting interests. As we noted last week, the homogenous northern tier seemed available for sacrifices in gambits for political dominance in the south. The modern Republican Party appears to have abandoned efforts to be a majority political party holding popular parity with voters, and contents itself with weakening Democratic voting centers and strongholds—case in point, casting more and more of progressive Bellingham into areas long lost to the GOP, and thereby diluting Dem’s power to influence centrist swing districts like the 42nd LD. In this manner, a Republican minority can hold huge swaths of territory, like the geographic bulk of Whatcom County, against the progressive pressures of population centers like Bellingham.
Despite all that, we did all right in the bargain.
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