Voters and politicos in Washington state will have their first real opportunity to discuss real geography on Tuesday when the bipartisan State Redistricting Commission reveals four maps (one congressional and one legislative from each party’s two-man appointed delegation) to redraw the political lines and situate a new 10th Congressional District.
In an odd sort of role reversal, Democrats have been seen as split on the idea of locating the new 10th CD in south of Seattle in order to to recognize the surging new population core of minorities in South King County and the Eastside, while some Republicans are acknowledging the merits of such a plan.
A strong call for the creation of the new 10th Congressional District in parts of Southwest King County and the Eastside was voiced throughout the Commission’s four-month schedule of public forums around the state. The map proposed by United for Fair Representation takes portions of the current 7th, 8th and 9th Congressional Districts comprising an area that has experienced rapid population growth in minority communities.
Representatives from groups advocating for better minority participation in elections were omnipresent at commission hearings making their political case. But the role of the Redistricting Commission is to draw new district boundaries that balance the population shifts since the last U.S. Census in 2000, while also respecting community boundaries that are sometimes difficult to ascertain.
Commissioner Tom Huff, the appointee of Republicans in the State House, does not see that the proposal for making the new 10th CD a majority-minority district conflicts with the Commission’s obligations.
“The final negotiation will be interesting,” Huff told NW Daily Marker. “But the lines as drawn are pretty workable.”
Huff suggested that the new lines penciled in for a district where people of color would be in the majority is simply a recognition of demographic changes in the region that have taken place in the last ten years.
“We’ve had a tremendous increase in the population of minorities, and particularly in those areas, and that’s a different dynamic than we had in 2001,” Huff said. “We are catching up to the times.”
Catching up to the times, indeed, but not necessarily lurching into uncharted territory. Majority-minority legislative districts have been in place around the state, but have failed in many cases to magically generate the kind of participation from minority communities that proponents suggest.
“When you talk about legislative districts, we already have a number of them in the state. That hasn’t made a whole lot of difference in who’s representing them,” Huff said. “That’s very true in Yakima… and in some of the Seattle suburbs. The 37th [legislative district] is an example.”
“It’s not necessarily going to assure them that they’re going to have a person of color representing them,” Huff added.
The fact that the proposed 10th CD sits on territory that is primarily Democrat-controlled could be at the heart of why some Democratic politicians see its formation as a double-edged sword. Redistricting always holds potential for the out-party to connect with different voters. In the case of South Seattle, if minorities are truly feeling underrepresented by their state and congressional representatives, the door could be open for Republicans to begin a dialogue with disaffected voters.
The Washington State Redistricting Commission is scheduled to release their proposed maps for congressional and legislative districts Tuesday after a morning meeting in Olympia.
[image credit: courtesy use from United for Fair Representation]