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Legislative changes in the works locally

OLYMPIA - In the process of redrawing legislative boundaries, state officials may also be changing Yakima Valley's political landscape.

That's according to legislative and congressional maps proposed yesterday, Tuesday, by four redistricting commissioners.

The state's redistricting commission's focus is to meet a federal mandate that states review legislative and congressional districts every 10 years to accurately reflect population changes after each census.

The idea is to have the population of each district be as equal as possible.

Figures from the 2010 Census for example, reflect the state's population growth away from large cities like Seattle and towards outlying areas to the south, north, as well as east of the Cascades.

15th District impacts

Redistricting proposals by commissioners, though, reflect not only a re-shuffling of district lines to balance out numbers but also a move toward "majority/minority" legislative districts.

The 15th legislative district, which includes Sunnyside, would under all four proposals be chopped up in an attempt to attract more Hispanic voters.

The 15th district proposals from commissioners include Republican Slade Gorton's idea to remove all of Yakima County from the district except for northern and eastern portions, including Sunnyside and some of the city of Yakima.

In an even more extreme proposal, commission member and Democrat Tim Ceis proposes limiting the 15th district to just the eastern part of Yakima County, leaving out Klickitat and Skamania counties that currently make up part of the district.

"We have seen significant minority growth in the state of Washington," Ceis said of his plan. "In some communities the minority is now the majority...that has to be reflected."

The commission's proposals reflected comments from minorities in the state who called for "majority/minority" districts.

In public comments made yesterday, one speaker - Bethel School District board member Marianne Lincoln - described herself as a progressive and supporter of minority candidates. But she cautioned commissioners in going too far in trying to re-shape how the state votes.

"It's not good to dilute every other district around them and put themselves (minorities) all in one district," Lincoln said.

She added minorities are "shooting themselves in the foot" when they call for re-districting on racial boundaries instead of geographic boundaries.

Kittitas County west?

State legislative district boundaries are just half of the commission's work.

The commission also has the task of drawing up a 10th Congressional district and redrawing the other nine districts to better reflect the state's population shift over the past 10 years.

Because of population growth in the eastern part of the state, and the need for a 10th district, three of the four proposals have Kittitas County added to a congressional district that includes eastern King County.

Kittitas County is currently part of the fourth Congressional district, which includes Yakima County.

"Where to cross the mountains is probably the great question in congressional districting," said Gorton, whose plan would leave Kittitas and Yakima counties in the same district.

Congressman Doc Hastings acknowledges some loss in the fourth district will take place.

"While my preference would be the district include all of the communities that I currently represent, the reality is adding the new tenth Congressional district in Washington state makes that impossible," the Pasco Republican said in a prepared statement.

Hastings added, "In order for all Congressional districts to be of equal population, over 150,000 eastern Washington residents will be joined in a Congressional district with Western Washington."

As for the new 10th congressional district, most of the commissioners focused on establishing it in south Puget Sound because of population growth there.

Gorton's plan calls for the 10th district to be in the northern part of the state, combining rural areas east and west of the mountains.

"A first step"

Redistricting commission chair Lura Powell called yesterday's proposals a "first step."

She added, "Odds are near certain that the final map will be different than what we see today. I encourage all Washingtonians to participate in the public comment process."

Public comments on the plans will be accepted until Oct. 11.

To view maps of the congressional and legislative proposals go on-line at www.redistricting.wa.gov/maps.asp where comments can also be made on specific proposals.

Comments can also be made by writing:

Washington State Redistricting Commission

P.O. Box 40948

Olympia, WA 98504-0948

E-mail comments to contact@redistricting.wa.gov

Commissioners hope to agree on new boundaries for congressional and legislative districts by Nov. 1.

Those boundaries will still face review and a decision by state lawmakers next year.

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