State redistricting looking like a conservative shift for southwest

By Tony Lystra / The Daily News | Posted: Tuesday, September 13, 2011 11:30 pm

OLYMPIA — Southwest Washington's 3rd Congressional District, which has been controlled by Democrats for most of the last half century, likely would become more Republican under four plans to redraw the state's congressional districts presented in Olympia on Tuesday.

All four proposals would lop off most of Thurston County, a traditional Democratic stronghold, from the north end of the 3rd District. To be elected, candidates would need to woo more conservative voters in the southern part of the district, which currently includes Cowlitz, Lewis, Wahkiakum, Pacific and parts of Clark and Thurston counties.

The four proposals were unveiled by the four-member Washington State Redistricting Commission. The proposals could cause some big shakesups in state legislative districts in Southwest Washington.

The commission is using U.S. Census data to redraw congressional and state legislative district boundaries. The U.S. and state constitutions require that the districts include roughly equal numbers of people and that boundaries be adjusted every 10 years to reflect population growth and shifts.

The four commissioner's proposals also include a new 10th Congressional District, because the state's population has grown enough to earn the state an additional representative to Congress. The Legislatively appointed members  two Democrats and two Republicans  must agree on a final map by Jan. 1.

Each of the plans presented Tuesday would lop Olympia and much or all of Thurston county off the district's northern end.

"If the crux of the thing is the 3rd District loses the Olympia area, then certainly it's going to take a bent in the Republican direction," said state Rep Dean Takko, a Democrat who represents Longview. "Thurston County has always been a pretty strong Democratic area."

Todd Donovan, a Western Washington University political science professor, agreed that the plans "could tilt the district more toward Republicans."

The 3rd District has historically favored Democrats. Congresswoman Jaime Herrera-Beutler, who won the 3rd District seat last year, is only the second Republican in a half century to represent the district.

Herrera-Beutler's spokesman said in an email Tuesday that the Congresswoman "doesn't have any comment on the various proposals except to say that she'll be happy to represent and work hard for the residents of the district wherever the final boundaries are drawn."

Former Republican U.S. Senator and redistricting commission member Slade Gorton pointed out Tuesday that his plan for the 3rd District "loses all of Thurston County" and adds Southwest Pierce County to the district.

Asked during a press conference if the change would make the 3rd a reliably Republican district, Gorton said, "I wish that were the case, but I don't think it is."

Gorton said he made the changes because the 3rd District currently has too many voters and Thurston County was "the easiest thing to lop off."

"Yeah, I think that makes it slightly more Republican, but I don't think it makes it reliably a Republican district," Gorton said.

The plan submitted by commission member Tom Huff, a former Republican State Representative, shaved all but a small sliver of Thurston County from the 3rd District, but added Klickitat County.

Plans submitted by the commission's two Democrats were nearly identical. Former Seattle Deputy Mayor and commission member Tim Ceis's plan shortened the 3rd District to cut off Olympia and also moved Pacific County out of the District. A plan by Democrat Dean Foster, a former state representative, was nearly identical.

Both Democratic plans established the state's new 10th district in the Olympia area. That's the home of Democrat Denny Heck, who lost 3rd District seat to Herrera Beutler last year. Heck has said he plans to run for Congress next year, but he has not said which district he'll run in.

Takko, the state representative from Longview, suggested the commission's Democrats may have been willing to sacrifice the 3rd District to create a new Democratic stronghold in a new 10th District with Olympia as its biggest population center.

"There's going to be some trade-offs," Takko said. "You get one. We get one."

Cowlitz County would disappear from the 18th Legislative District under all four proposals, forcing state Rep. Ed Orcutt, R-Kalama, to either move to Clark County or run for re-election in another district.