With the holidays upon us, it’s hard to think about politics. But intense negotiations are occurring in Olympia by the Washington State Redistricting Commission, which is trying to draw our state’s new boundaries for the 10 congressional and 49 legislative districts in the state. With a January 1, 2012 deadline looming, time is ticking away. And as each day passes, there is increasing concern that the Commission will not meet its deadline because of political maneuvering. A delay is bad for all of us.
So why this exercise of redistricting anyway? Washington’s population has increased by nearly 1 million people since our state was last redistricted in 2001. The purpose of this work is to ensure that every man, woman and child are fairly represented in the political process.
The Commission, comprised of four voting commissioners and one nonvoting chairman, have been at work on this for nearly a full year at a cost of $3 million in taxpayer dollars. Each commissioner is chosen by one legislative caucus in Olympia to advocate for them; Commissioner Tim Ceis, representing Senate Democrats, Commissioner Slade Gorton, representing Senate Republicans, Commissioner Dean Foster, representing House Democrats and Commissioner Tom Huff, representing House Republicans. Each has spent significant time on this critically important work, but if the commission is not able to come to agreement, the process is handed over to the State Supreme Court. Nine elected justices would have two months to draw the state’s district lines. If former elected officials are having trouble finishing this process, just imagine how difficult it will be for current elected officials to achieve.
The redistricting process has been transparent and informational, with regular website updates, maps showing potential boundaries, numerous community hearings and other opportunities for citizen feedback. Enterprise Washington recognizes that this work is complicated and difficult. But a bipartisan plan that keeps communities together is far more acceptable to most citizens than one developed by political tacticians. From the public’s viewpoint, all four commissioners are charged with taking the high road in keeping communities together rather than gerrymandering lines so that districts become dominated by one political party for the next ten years. Tactics to delay rather than negotiate could be interpreted as benefiting the party that has ruled Olympia since 1999, the Democratic Party.
As an organization committed to recruiting bright and dedicated men and women to run for office, we have additional concerns about redistricting delays. Many individuals are currently sitting on the sidelines, waiting for the commissioners to complete the redistricting process before throwing their hats into the ring. The window of opportunity for them to run for office is slowly being closed. This does not bode well for our commitment to build a high-caliber group of Democrats and Republicans in Olympia and Congress who are not career politicians, but have the passion, experience and willingness to make tough decisions on regulatory and competitiveness issues important to our state’s future.
The majority of Washingtonians pride themselves on being critical, independent thinkers. We understand that the foundation of democracy is fair and equal representation. These new legislative and congressional lines are the foundation for Washington state’s political leaders who write the laws and regulatory policy that is the backdrop for our state’s economic and educational competitiveness. If partisan politics gets the best of the Commission in these final days, our state’s prosperity and positioning in the world economy will suffer.
It’s time for these commissioners to quit stalling and instead deliver districts that are competitive, while keeping communities intact. And for those of us who have historically tuned out this exercise of redrawing district lines, it’s time to get involved by contacting members of the Commission directly at firstname.lastname@example.org or through social media at Twitter @RedistrictingWA or Facebook (search for “Washington State Redistricting Commission”). We also encourage you to write letters to the editor of your local newspaper. Only through citizen engagement can this partisan negotiating be resolved before the January 1, 2012 deadline.
Democracy is not a spectator sport. You need to speak up now to keep communities intact and help ensure fair representation for all of us.
Erin McCallum is president of the nonprofit, nonpartisan Enterprise Washington (www.enterprisewashington.org) and the Business Institute of Washington (www.businessinstitutewa.org), which both help companies and employees better understand how elected officials establish public policy, and to become more involved in the political process.
[photo credit: Telstar Logistics]