Redistricting commission proposes big legislative district changes

GOP wants to balance competitive field; Democrats seek more representation for underserved

Proposals released Sept. 21 by the four voting members of the Washington State Redistricting Commission to redraw political boundaries — and its 49 legislative districts — could have far-reaching consequences on the political landscape in Kitsap County.

This effort is part of the once-in-a-decade redrawing of the state’s congressional and legislative districts based on data compiled for the 2020 U.S. Census, as mandated by the Washington State Constitution. The state Legislature appointed four commissioners — two Democrats and two Republicans — to redraw the boundaries. A fifth non-voting, non-partisan member — social scientist Sarah Augustine, who chairs the commission — was appointed by the commissioners.

The commission is mandated to draw up districts that are roughly equal in population — about 157,000 people per district — and not be stacked to favor any party or discriminate against any group. It also must encourage electoral competition and “provide fair and effective representation.”

At least three of the commission’s members must come to an agreement on new maps to be drawn based on input provided by citizens at public outreach meetings and proposed changes submitted by the commissioners.

The four voting members are April Sims, a House Democratic Caucus appointee; Paul Graves, House Republican Caucus appointee; Brady Pinero Walkinshaw, appointed by the Senate Democratic Caucus; and Joe Fain, Senate Republican Caucus appointee.

Sims stated her proposed map is based on rebalancing the state’s legislative districts as closely as possible to unify cities and communities, and keep communities with common interests within a single district.

“Respecting the tremendous amount of public feedback to unify cities or communities, this draft map seeks to reduce the current legislative splits of cities,” she wrote in a statement. “Among a few of the most often requested, reducing the number of legislative districts for the cities of Renton and Bremerton, this map fulfills those requests reducing the splits of both cities.”

Sims also based her proposal on comments from tribal councils, who called for uniting reservation land into single districts. She also said her map reflects greater representation for underrepresented, racially diverse areas, particularly in south King County.

Republican maps

Graves said his proposed map increases the number of competitive districts to 11, nearly doubling the current six swing districts. But it also would displace 25 Democrats out of their districts, including 26th District state Sen. Emily Randall. If his changes are included in the final map, it would be an advantage that Republicans would welcome in a state that has been dominated by Democratic majorities in the state Legislature elected into office in non-competitive races.

Walkinshaw’s draft is reflective of that commissioner’s hope to “creative fair and effective representation in Yakima, uniting the Confederated Tribes and Bands of the Yakama Nation, and allowing for “more fair and effective representation in the Yakima Valley.” The Democrat also stated his plan takes into account legislative districts where people of color make up a majority of the voting age population.

Fain stated that his map reflects the importance of public education by containing existing school district boundaries within legislative districts. He emphasized that his proposal protects close to three-quarters of all school districts in Washington from being split between multiple legislative districts.

Fain’s proposal also would increase the number of competitive districts. “Competitive elections would keep representatives accountable to their constituents and allow the democratic process to flourish.” Fain’s map also would move Randall out of the the district.

Statewide, there are 10 congressional districts and 49 legislative seats that represent 7.6 million residents, according to the 2020 Census. Because of substantial population growth over the past decade, the target populations for each set of electoral districts rose from 137,236 to 157,251 individuals from 2010 to 2020. For congressional seats, the numbers rose from 672,454 to 770,528 individuals.

Plans criticized

Predictably, both parties criticized each other’s proposals. Democrats led by state party chair Tina Podlodowski charged that Republican commissioners were “gerrymandering” the process. In turn, Caleb Heimlich, the Republican state party chair, accused Democrats of gerrymandering so that their party could stay “in perpetual control.”

Indeed, depending on which political map is referenced, a significant number of incumbents on both sides would be bumped out of their districts.

In Kitsap County, and in Bremerton in particular, the proposed maps would reshape the 23rd and 26th legislative districts — and could impact races by the incumbents holding seats in those districts.

Now divided into three districts — the 23rd, 26th and 35th — Bremerton could find itself entirely in the 23rd District, if Fain’s proposed map change is adopted. Bainbridge Island also would move into the 36th District to better reflect its common interests with Seattle, he wrote in his statement. In his map, the 26th District would expand to include a portion of Silverdale and Seabeck.

Graves proposes to include most of Bremerton into the 23rd, alongside North Kitsap, Silverdale and Seabeck. Bainbridge Island would shift to the 34th. His map also would include a larger portion of South Kitsap and a portion of West Bremerton in the 26th District.

Sims elected to keep Bainbridge Island, North Kitsap and Silverdale in the 23rd District, and expand its reach to Chico, Seabeck and the Hood Canal areas. In the Democrat’s proposed map, Bremerton would be divided into the 23rd and 26th districts; the downtown area, a portion of East Bremerton and Manette, are included in the 26th. Gorst and Seabeck would sit in the 23rd.

The proposal submitted by Walkinshaw has almost all of Bremerton in the 26th, along with Port Orchard and Olalla. His map includes North Kitsap, Seabeck, Belfair and a portion of Silverdale in the 23rd.

As reported in the online Crosscut news site, Bremerton City Council member Leslie Daugs urged the redistricting commission to pay attention to the needs of her city’s residents of color, who she said are being overshadowed by the priorities of whiter and wealthier constituents in the three districts in which Bremerton resides.

“Why should the most diverse city within Kitsap County be split within three districts, but other cities within the area have one district?” Daugs wrote to the commissioners. “I do not feel that I, as a child of immigrants and a member of the AAPI [Asian American Pacific Islander] community, feel adequately represented.”

Legislative redistricting maps can be viewed online and also here for congressional maps.