Writings and observations

Donna Nelson
Population of Washington congressional districts/WA Secretary of State map

Congressional reapportionment can be hard to conceptualize unless you can picture the area in your mind: As mobile blobs, some overstuffed and others too thin. In the case of congressional districts, all are supposed to come close to a specific target, and when a new one has to be created out of the existing ones, the population for the new will have to come cheifly from the fat portions of the existing.

As you can see here, in this useful map from the Secretary of State’s office. (You can get a better, clearer look via the link in the cutline.) The fattest (in population) congressional district is District 8, the area east and southeast of Seattle; by itself, that’s approaching a fourth of the population for a whole new district.

Looking at the map, you can imagine slicing off maybe 135,000 people from the south of district 8, about 115,000 from District 3 to its south, and another 50,000 or so from District 9 to the west of them, to form a contiguous area … that would still be less than half of what you need for a new congressional district.

So it’s going to be more complicated than that, even before we start considering the question of where the current members of Congress live (and don’t imagine that won’t come up for discussion).

Sparks some thoughts, though.

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Washington

Idahoans had not in 2008 elected a new Democrat to a major office in a full decade when they chose Walt Minnick to oust Republican Bill Sali. (The last was Marilyn Howard in 1998, to superintendnt of public instruction.) He was under a microscope from day one, and he took unusual efforts to align himself with the rest of the state’s congressional delegation (all Republican) and to distance himself from many others in his party.

The Republican campaign to unseat him started almost immediately and became a stunning story all by itself. First a legislative insider enters, then is challenged by an unknown who turns out to have some good connections; the legislator drops out as the challenger picks up tremendous steam; another legislator enters the fray, though for months he seems a distant longshot; then the frontrunning challenger implodes, in historic, almost mind-blowing fashion. Meanwhile, Minnick organizes intensively and raises more money, by far, than anyone ever has for a U.S. House race – somewhere around five or six times as much as his Republican opponent.

And then there was the general election campaign, which was almost as hot.

Minnick was very well financed and well organized, but Republican Raul Labrador wound up trouncing him. It was a stunning loss that can’t be considered, in Idaho, entirely unexpected, but still demonstrated the difficulty Idaho Democrats continue to have. Might it have the effect of causing Democrats to fundamentally rethink how to become more competitive in Idaho?

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Idaho Northwest

The bigger story should kick in come 2011, when more numbers come in and the redistricting commission starts meeting. But the fact of Washington state getting a 10th congressional district – this according to population figures released in December by the U.S. Census Bureau – has some significance all its own.

Symbolically, there’s this: Washington becomes only the second state (California being the other) to grow large enough to develop a House delegation in two figures. Arizona, for example, grew but remains at nine.

Politically, this: The newly-added seat, which is highly likely to center on the Puget Sound, seems likely to push the state’s House partisan split from its current 5-4 Democratic majority to 6-4. There are enough Republican population centers around the Sound to give them probably one more district in addition to three probably R-majority districts elsewhere (analogues to the current 3, 4 and 5), but probably not more than that. On the other hand, if Oregon rather than Washington had gotten the extra district – and the gap between the two states for the gain was not large – it would likely have gone from 4-1 Democratic to 4-2 Democratic, a Republican gain.

Where will the “new district” be fitted in? Most opinionators tended to focus on the southern Sound area, somewhre around Pierce and Thurston counties. But that’s not a given; some of the largest numerical growth was in northern King. A number of possibilities exist.

But then, the commission has yet to weigh in.

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Northwest Washington website