Washington’s New Districts: Looking Ahead

[UPDATED 1/2/11]

Washington’s state redistricting commission used almost every minute of the time it was allotted, settling on a final state legislative redistricting plan at 9:55 PM on January 1– just two hours before its midnight deadline. The commission, which had already settled on a congressional map, finally agreed to create Washington’s first Hispanic-majority state legislative district, with 54.5% of the total population of the new 15th legislative district centered in Yakima being Latino.

Constitutionally, the five-member committee had to pass plans for both legislative and congressional districts by January 1st. The committee, which is composed of two Democrats, two Republicans, and one non-voting chairperson, must pass plans for both sets of districts (legislative and congressional) by at least a 3-1 margin. If commissioners had failed to reach an agreement by the end of New Years Day, then the duty of drawing new districts would have fallen to the Washington state supreme court.

Democrat Dean Foster and Republican Tom Huff needed to find common ground in eastern Washington’s legislative lines and finally did on Sunday night. The process received particular attention at the congressional level, where speculation on where the new 10th congressional district would land was settled last week.

The post-Census reapportionment of congressional seats gave Washington an additional seat in Congress, its tenth. In the bipartisan plan released Wednesday, this new district surrounds the city of Olympia, and includes Shelton, Dupont, Yelm and Puyallup. Democrat Denny Heck, a former state House majority leader and Olympia entrepreneur, has already announced his intention to run for the new district seat, as has Republican Dick Muri, a Pierce County Council member. Both Heck and Muri have stated they feel confident heading into this year’s election cycle. A third candidate, Republican Pierce County Council member Stan Fleming, has also said he will run.

Two other Congressional Republicans, Jaime Herrera Beutler and Dave Reichert, will both be running in more conservative, and therefore probably safer, congressional districts. Beutler, who defeated Heck in a narrow race last year, should feel a bit more at ease after watching her southwestern Washington 3rd district shed the left-leaning voters of Thurston county while picking up Skamania and Klickitat Counties. Reichert’s suburban 8th district now stretches across the cascades encompassing Wenatchee, Chelan, and Ellensburg. Both seats are now slightly safer for Republicans, but Democrats still will be competitive in years to come.

The 1st district – once encompassing the land surrounding Seattle – has moved. The new lines move the district east, from Redmond in the South, to the Canadian border including North Cascades National Park and Bothell. The incumbent, Jay Inslee, announced he would seek the governor’s job instead of another congressional bid, but six Democrats have already expressed their intentions to run.

In the 2nd district, Rick Larsen, the six-term Democratic Representative, should have an easier re-election in November, as his district shed some of its more conservative sections without losing Bellingham or Everett.

The 4th district held on to its conservative tilt. Although it lost some if its territory in the cascades, in picked up Okanogan County and more eastern land along Highway 395. In district 5, Republican Cathy McMorris Rodgers should remain in control.

Norm Dicks’ 6th district still contains Tacoma, the Olympic Pensinsula, and Bremerton, and although he saw his margin of victory fall from 67% in 2008 to 57% in 2010, he should still be safe in 2012.

Congressman Jim McDermott’s Seattle-based 7th district will still have one of the most solidly liberal constituencies in the United States.

Lastly, Washington’s 9th district: currently represented by Democrat Adam Smith, the 9th district shrinks in land area while picking up some of Seattle’s suburbs – Bellevue and Mercer Island as well as North Tacoma.

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