Lawmakers weigh in on state redistricting issues

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The failure for the Washington State Redistricting Commission to come up with new maps for Congressional and state Legislature districts has local lawmakers disappointed that the decision is now up to the Washington State Supreme Court.

The commission, made up of two Democratic and two Republican appointees, were not able to get new district maps completed by the deadline of the end of Nov. 15. Because of that, state law dictates the redistricting will be up to the state’s judicial branch.

The commission had reached an agreement on the redistricting before the deadline, but were unable to finalize the maps before the deadline, commissioner Paul Graves said in a release.

“I am proud of the redistricting commission for its hard work and dedication throughout this year’s redistricting process,” Graves said in the release. “In the midst of a pandemic, with 2020 census data delayed for months, and with a deadline six weeks earlier in the calendar than previous commissions, we conducted an unprecedented public outreach program. We heard from thousands of Washingtonians, consulted extensively with tribal partners, and ultimately drew maps that are fair and reflect the agreement of the voting commissioners.”

The commission did finally release maps for federal and state representation after the deadline. Though North Clark County will remain in the Third Congressional District, its state representation would see major changes if the court heeds what the commission eventually decided.

Currently representing the county area to the east of Interstate 205 including parts of Battle Ground, the 17th Legislative District would shift east. It would represent east Clark County including Camas, Washougal, parts of Vancouver and all of Skamania County.

The 18th Legislative District would shrink significantly from its current representation, which includes Salmon Creek, Brush Prairie and all of Battle Ground.

The 20th Legislative District, which currently represents the northernmost parts of Clark County and Woodland, as well as parts of Cowlitz and Lewis counties, would take on some of the 18th Legislative District’s current territory, including Ridgefield, La Center and Yacolt. 

Local legislators expressed disappointment that the decision on the new maps is in the hands of the state’s judicial branch.

“I don’t know why things went sideways this time, but it’s disappointing to say the least that the Supreme Court now controls the outcome,” Sen. Lynda Wilson, R-Vancouver, said in a statement. 

Wilson said the court doesn’t have experience in redistricting. She worries about the court’s ability to meet the constitutional standard for fairness in the districts.

“The people of our state want a bipartisan redistricting process — that’s what they created in 1983,” Wilson said. 

She said following what the commission finally recommended would be the best path forward as the commision are more balanced politically than the Democratic-leaning Supreme Court.

“(I)t would make the most sense for the court to sign off on them and leave well enough alone,” Wilson said.

Sen. Ann Rivers, R-La Center, said she understood technical challenges in drafting the new maps slowed the process down, but based on what she’s heard or read, “it is fair to wonder if some were OK with missing the deadline, knowing it would push the decision to the state Supreme Court, where five of the nine justices are or were Democrat appointees,” she said in a statement. 

“We may never know the full story of what happened, but here’s the reality: Anyone who cares about fair elections should want electoral districts that uphold the principle of fair representation called for in our state constitution,” Rivers said. 

She agreed that the court should go with what the commission ultimately proposed.

Sen. John Braun, R-Centralia, also agreed. He said the commission had attested that their vote happened in time for the deadline.

Though he said the court should uphold what the commission agreed on, he said the boundaries proposed “are not ideal.”

“I don’t like everything I see in the maps, but the (Supreme) Court’s only role should be to endorse the maps,” Braun said in a statement.

Rep. Peter Abbarno, R-Centralia, said he was initially disappointed that the commission was unable to meet its deadline, though the release of the maps was an assurance they actually came up with something.

“Even though the deadline wasn’t met, it’s good to know the process seemed to have worked and they did at least reach an agreement,” Abbarno said.

Abbarno noted the virtual nature of the commission’s work could have led to the delay, drawing from his own experience with a virtual Legislative session.

“When you do it virtually, I think the process slows down, and the process is not as seamless as it can or should be,” Abbarno said.

If approved, the commission’s map would have Abbarno’s district take on Ridgefield, La Center and Yacolt. Abbarno said he would work quickly to reach out to new constituents should he end up representing them.

“I’m really proud to represent the 20th District, wherever that is going to be,” Abbarno said.

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