Washington Republicans, Democrats spar over redrawing of state’s legislative map

Sep 22, 2021, 2:52 PM | Updated: Sep 23, 2021, 6:28 am
capital gains, legislative districts...
The Washington state Legislative Building. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren, File)
(AP Photo/Ted S. Warren, File)

The redrawing of Washington state’s legislative districts already has Democrats and Republicans at odds, with competing proposals drawing criticism from either side.

Seattle begins process of redrawing city’s council districts

The Washington State Redistricting Commission (WSRC) is comprised of four members — two Democrats and two Republicans. The commission has until mid-November to come to an agreement on the state’s new legislative districts, which will in turn determine the makeup of Washington state’s House and Senate.

Maps drawn by each of the two Republicans on the WSRC both seek to create more swing districts, defined as areas where Republican and Democratic votes were within three percentage points in the statewide 2020 election. Under Washington’s current alignment, there are six such districts. A proposal from Republican WSRC member and former state Senator Joe Fain would seek to expand that to 15, while former state Rep. Paul Graves’ map would have 11.

Graves’ map would also draw nearly two-dozen lawmakers outside of their existing districts, a majority of which are Democrats.

“Competitive districts are so important,” Graves said in a news release. “Get rid of them and you have elections without choices. Increase their number and you encourage parties to recruit outstanding candidates who must appeal to voters across the spectrum.”

Democrats on the commission, though, believe the state’s new districts should focus more on “fair representation for communities of color,” among other priorities. Based on the criteria cited by Republicans on the commission, proposed maps from Democrats April Sims and Bradley Walkinshaw would cut the number of swing districts down to three. That said, state Democrats have questioned the validity of that criteria, alleging that voter tallies for statewide candidates can often differ compared to legislative races.

GOP lawmakers on what’s at stake in Washington state

That discrepancy has both parties at odds over how to proceed, with Washington Democratic Party Chair Tina Podlodowski accusing Republicans of “gerrymandering” their maps to favor GOP candidates.

“The GOP has drawn effectively non-contiguous maps and have prioritized their own political and electoral objectives above the mission of the Commission as actually defined in the RCW,” she said in a written release. “… The GOP commissioners should go back to the drawing board and try producing maps that respect the law.”

State Republican Party Chair Caleb Heimlich fired back on Tuesday, arguing that proposed districts from Democrats prove the party “hates democracy.”

Graves echoed those sentiments in a response of his own the following morning.

“When party bosses draw maps the way they do in other states, things naturally tend toward ugly partisanship,” he said. “I get it; the party currently in power will always have an incentive to lock in temporary majorities by reducing competitive districts, even if it means elections are decided ahead of time and legislators then cater to their parties’ worst elements.”

In order to move forward, three out of the four members of the commission will need to approve a map by Nov. 15. If the commission reaches an impasse, it will fall to the state Supreme Court to draw Washington’s legislative districts instead.

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Washington Republicans, Democrats spar over redrawing of state’s legislative map