As we start to look at reapportionment, which will be a recurring topic here in the year ahead, a piece today in Crosscut by Dick Morrill, a geographer emeritus from the University of Washington, was an immediate grabber. It started in a logical spot: Working through some of the necessary changes that would occur if Washington gets, as it may, a tenth congressional district for this decade.
What he didn't follow through on was, what might the political import be? Herewith ...
You start an analysis like this at the edges, where population is thinnest and where the choices to add or subtract territory and people are the fewest. In Washington that means the east, the 5th district centered around Spokane. Morrill figures that because of population gains, the 5th will have to shed territory, most logically Okanogan and maybe Adams counties, both very strongly Republican areas. Since Spokane itself is politically split (the city itself is mostly Democratic now), and there are a couple of smaller Democratic centers there, the effect would be to make the 5th a little more competitive. That may not matter in the shorter run, since Cathy McMorris-Rodgers seems to have a very solid lock here, and would even with these kinds of changes. But in the case of an open seat or a close race, in a different climate, it could matter. Still, overall a continuing Republican district.
As would be for the near term the neighboring fourth, which has centered around the Yakima-Tri-Cities area. Its configuration may change a little, adding more territory to the north and maybe losing (Morrill estimates) about half of growing Yakima County; presumably, that slice would have to be meshed with the population base to the southwest in Clark County. (The fourth, like the fifth, would continue as a strongly Republican district, probably the strongest Republican in the state, an easy continued hold in future as in the recent past for Republican Doc Hastings.) There are other ways to make this work, really creative ways of stringing counties, but Morrill is probably right if you're interested in creating realistically compact districts.
So in that case, you'd combine part of Yakima with Klickitat County, southwest to Skamania county and into Clark, and probably somewhat beyond. Clark is a close-split county, but the combination of it with the Republican base at Yakima County would result in a clear Republican tilt in this newly-configured district. New Republican Representative Jaime Herrera presumably would have little trouble holding this one.
From there, Morrill's speculation - which matches with what's been in the air elsewhere - is that the pieces of a new, tenth, district probably would center around the Olympia area, around Thurston County - which has been joined with Clark County to its south to form the current third. In this projection, those two areas break apart. The new Olympia-based district would include mostly Democratic territory (Thurston itself is strongly Democratic, though countered by the much smaller Lewis and moderated by Mason), and probably would be a Democratic district.
To the north, in district 2 (running from the Everett area to the Canadian border), Morrill figures a large chunk of Snohomish County will have to be expelled, probably to District 1 (though there are options). Depending on which precincts are shifted, this may make District 2 even more closely competitive. Or not.
That's five districts. And what of the other five?
And here's where we start to reach the end of geographic necessity and start to enter the question of sheer political calculation. A whole lot of Washington's population lies in that area west of the Cascades, from Olympia to Everett. Most of it is Democratic, except for some large suburban pieces, mainly in eastern King and Pierce counties and in scattered parts of Kitsap. How do you choose to arrange them? It may be possible to develop as many as two genuinely competitive districts out of this material; it could also be possible to slice the pie so as to make them all Democratic-tilted.
The odds favor creation of at least one district with enough of the Republican suburban areas to make it competitive or slightly Republican. Hence the formula: In a 10-district Washington, the most likely outcome from here looks like six generally Democratic districts, three generally Republican, and one up for grabs with probably some Republican edge.
But it could be difference. The reapportionment commission meetings could be notably interesting next year.