Days before an important Pierce County political map is set to become final, the Washington State Republican Party Thursday said the districting master who drew the map should be fired because he also works for the state House and Senate Democrats on redistricting.
“We knew that the work of the master was heavily favoring the Democrats, (and) now we know why,” state Republican Party Chairman Kirby Wilbur said in a statement.
Districting master Steven Garrett “should be immediately dismissed from his post,” Wilbur said. “It is unethical and perhaps even illegal (for) him to continue his work.”
Garrett said he has not promoted Democrats’ interests in developing maps for Pierce County Council district boundaries.
He said he disclosed that he worked for legislative Democrats when he was interviewed nearly three months ago by the county’s five-member districting committee.
“I’m promoting the public’s interest,” the Tacoma geographer said Thursday. “Everything in that map has been supported by the public process.”
The Pierce County Districting Committee voted 3-2 to hire Garrett April 19.
The panel’s two Democrats, Kenneth Blair and Sam Ross, voted to hire him, as did the non-partisan member, Chairwoman Karen Seinfeld. Republican members Michael Abernathy and Vice Chairman Deryl McCarty voted against hiring Garrett.
Earlier in April, Garrett started working for the Legislature.
When Garrett was interviewed by the committee, McCarty said he and Abernathy asked Garrett which part of the state redistricting commission he worked for, and for which caucus. Then, Garrett disclosed he worked for the Democrats, McCarty said.
Garrett said McCarty asked him which party he worked for after he told the committee he worked for the Legislature.
“I never tried to hide it,” Garrett said. “He never had to ask me more than once.”
Bonnie Bunning, executive director of the Washington State Redistricting Commission, said Garrett was hired as a geographic information system analyst by the House and Senate Democratic caucuses to advise the two Democratic appointees to the commission.
A similar staff of policy and GIS analysts was hired by the Republican caucuses of the Legislature to advise the two Republican appointees.
The state commission is redrawing legislative districts and reapportioning congressional districts.
While the partisan appointees are paid by the legislative caucuses, that money is reimbursed out of the budget provided to the commission, Bunning said. There also are non-partisan staff members who report to the non-voting chairwoman of the commission.
Peter Graves, executive director of the state Republican Party, said working at both jobs created a conflict for Garrett.
“It is impossible to believe Mr. Garrett can at the same time work to promote the Democrats at the state level and somehow be non-partisan in Pierce County,” he said.
Pierce County’s districting committee is scheduled to take action on a final map Tuesday night in Tacoma.
Garrett’s final map has proved to be controversial. It drew Republican and University Place resident Stan Flemming out of his district and added more of Tacoma to that district.
Overall, Garrett’s map divided the population of heavily Democratic Tacoma into four districts, instead of two.
That division favors Democrats “big time,” McCarty said.
McCarty said Garrett’s work for the committee is complete. The question that remains is whether the committee will amend the map Tuesday night.
Staff writer Peter Callaghan contributed to this report.
Steve Maynard: 253-597-8647 firstname.lastname@example.org blog.thenewstribune.com/polibuzz