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Down to the wire on redistricting
The state Redistricting Commission is only a few weeks away from a Jan. 1 deadline to reorganize the state's 10 congressional districts and 49 Legislative districts, but commissioners aren't concerned about the approaching date.
"No one is worried; no one is panicked," said former Seattle Deputy Mayor Tim Ceis, one of the commission members. "I'm confident we will make it."
Should an agreement not be reached by Jan. 1, the responsibility would shift to the State Supreme Court.
Ceis' tone marked a far different impression from a primarily negative viewpoint from some of the commissioners at a meeting at the end of November. Some members said the discussions had come to an impasse. Now, commissioners have shown a renewed confidence, despite the fact that no new maps have been created since the commission's Oct. 14 meeting. The talk of an impasse, has been reduced to a couple of "bottlenecks," that commissioners could resolve in the next week.
The four-man team, made up of Ceis, former chief clerk of the House of Representatives Dean Foster, former State Rep. Tom Huff, and former State Attorney General and U.S. Senator Slade Gorton, whittled down maps of the legislative districts from four to two. No movement has been made on congressional maps, which include the placement of a new 10th district.
The four members have split off into two teams to try and divide up the extensive legislative maps. Huff and Foster are working on southwestern Washington, up to Pierce County, while the other two members are focusing on districts west of the Cascades, from the Canadian border down to the Pierce County line.
Commissioners have been meeting weekly for brief project updates, but little has been shared. Many of the meetings have lasted less than half an hour, leaving some followers of the situation upset by what they called a lack of transparency.
“We have no idea what’s causing these bottlenecks,” said David Anderson, the only person to testify at a recent commission hearing. “It’s the people’s business. When you isolate yourselves from the rest of the public and public input, it creates a lot of cynicism.”
Both legislative plans keep Bellevue split between the 41st and 48th Districts. Commissioners said the Eastside of King County is among their biggest challenges. With large population growth over the last decade, some of the districts have swollen well beyond the 137,000-person per district requirement. The 48th, features 6,800 extra people. Those people have to go somewhere, leading to a Rubik's Cube of redistricting where each move throws off the next.
"All of these have a ripple effect; every time you move a bit of population you affect a district two over," said Foster, who was appointed to the commission by the state House of Representatives. "They all interact with each other."
Both sides are coming close to an agreement on their portions of the legislative maps, but that still leaves only three weeks to put together the maps, and hash out the congressional boundaries, which could feature big shifts for Bellevue.
Now, Bellevue is represented in the 8th District, with rural portions of King and Pierce counties. Three of the four commissioners presented maps that would group all, or a portion of Bellevue with South King County cities such as Renton, Kent, Seatac, Burien and Federal Way. Three of the four maps separate Bellevue from its Eastside neighbors, coupling it wholly with south county jurisdictions.
Commissioner Huff's map puts Bellevue and Issaquah in a sprawling 8th District that shoots east through Kittitas and Chelan counties. Commissioners grappled with the fact that they had to move 150,000 Eastern Washington residents, into districts with the western part of the state.
"No longer are the Cascades a definite breaking point anymore," Huff said.
Huff and his fellow commissioners indicated a couple of "hurdles" that still need to be cleared, but they declined to name specific districts. Once those few hurdles are cleared, commissioners said the maps could come together in a matter of days. The four commissioners said they are very close to finishing off the legislative maps, and they are confident all maps will be complete as the deadline closes in.
"These kind of processes, the conclusions of them area always a focus of the deadline," Ceis said. "They just seem to go to the 11th hour; that's just how it works."