It’s not the same as seeing Russia from one’s backyard, but Mark Biggs can see the 23rd legislative district from his front yard.
The East Bremerton resident, and chairman of the 35th Legislative District Democrats, was one of the first to speak at a state Redistricting Commission open house in Bremerton Thursday evening, and urged the four voting commissioners to consider including the city in one or two legislative districts, rather than the current three.
In addition to grouping people living in Bremerton with voters as far away as Hansville, Hoodsport and Gig Harbor but not the family across the street, other speakers said the divisions make organizing voters more difficult, they require contacting nine lawmakers to explain issues within the city limits and with voters divided, city residents “lack the electoral muscle” to elect one of their own neighbors, Biggs said.
“We have good representation, but we don’t have anybody who comes home to Bremerton,” Biggs said.
The closest lawmaker representing Bremerton is state Rep. Jan Angel, a Republican who lives in Port Orchard.
The five-person panel, which includes a non-voting member, plans to finalize the new map in the beginning of November, ahead of the Jan. 1 deadline. Three of the four commissioners must agree on the new district boundaries and once approved, the Legislature can make only minor adjustments, said Bonnie Bunning, the commission’s executive director.
Each legislative district will be adjusted after the 2010 Census, which found about 6.7 residents in the state. The state is divided into 49 districts, each with two representatives and one senator, and after the new map each district will have about 137,235 people. And because of the state’s added population — the 2000 Census found about 5.9 million residents — Washington will get a tenth Congressional district. Congressional districts must have about 672,454 people.
Doris Armijo Carender said because of Bremerton’s diverse ethnic makeup, the divisions dilute the ability of minority groups to make their concerns heard as they do not always share the same same concerns as those in more homogeneous, upper income areas like Bainbridge Island.
“We have very little in common with a large number of voters in that district,” she said.
Although she doesn’t believe former commissioners intended to divide minority communities, “that is the practical effect of it,” Armijo Carender said.
Councilman Adam Brockus, clarifying he wasn’t speaking on behalf of the Council, said he believed Kitsap’s naval bases should be included in the same legislative and Congressional districts.
“We would like it to be not as divided,” he said. Other speakers asked that when lines are drawn, they respect natural boundaries, which makes the job of local officials easier.
“That is the important part for us,” said county Auditor Walt Washington.
There were speakers who asked for minimal change, such as Bremerton lawyer Ed Wolfe, who said the status quo, with naval installations split among Congressional and Legislative districts — U.S. Rep. Norm Dicks, D-Belfair, represents the district containing the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard whereas the district represented by U.S. Rep. Jay Inslee, D-Bainbridge Island, contains Naval Base Kitsap-Bangor.
“It works for this economy,” Wolfe said.
However, former Republican County Commissioner Matt Ryan, who lives on Illahee Road, said the more districts that carve out slices of Kitsap County the better, as it equates to more votes from lawmakers concerned with ferry issues.
However, Ryan suggested commissioners consider including Bainbridge Island with a King County district. It has a 206 area code and culturally doesn’t mesh with the rest of Kitsap County.
“They have more in common with Queen Anne than Poulsbo,” Ryan said.