Minority groups given more power under plan
By Jordan Schrader; staff writer
Take the diverse southern half of Tacoma, add a swath of the military-family-heavy Franklin Pierce School District, and you’ve got an area where minorities make up the majority.
Capturing that area in a political district, racial and ethnic minority groups say, would give them a bigger voice in state government.
It’s one of several legislative districts around the state proposed by United for Fair Representation. The coalition of minority groups also wants people of color to make up a majority of the new congressional district that was awarded to Washington because of population growth.
In Western Washington, the plans likely would benefit Republicans, because minorities who tend to vote Democrat would be concentrated in a single district rather than forming smaller but substantial voting blocs in multiple districts.
The state Redistricting Commission last week wrapped up a series of 17 meetings to collect public input about how it should draw political lines. Around the state, members of the minority-group coalition attended hearings and urged the two Democrats and two Republicans on the commission to create so-called “majority-minority” districts.
“It doesn’t necessarily guarantee that a person of color could or would be elected,” said Cherry Cayabyab, project director for the coalition, “but whoever is elected is more accountable to communities of color.”
More than 27 percent of Washingtonians identify as a member of a minority group, but roughly 7 percent of the Legislature does.
In the proposed 29th Legislative District centered on Tacoma, 53 percent of the population would be people of color. Hispanics would be the largest minority group with nearly 18 percent. Blacks and Asian-Americans would each make up about 13 percent of the district, according to the coalition.
The district would cover parts of Tacoma, Lakewood, University Place, Midland and Parkland.
Right now, both the 27th and 29th legislative districts have sizable minority populations. Rep. Jeannie Darneille, a Democrat who represents the 27th District, said she wants to keep two diverse districts rather than concentrate minorities in one.
She has tried to recruit candidates who would bring racial diversity to the Legislature, Darneille said.
“I think there are good candidates in both those districts to run,” she said.
Alex Hays, who runs Mainstream Republicans of Washington, said Republicans have a political stake in seeing proposals for majority-minority districts succeed.
Democrats also support the concept, officially.
“We would be delighted to see a majority-minority district or two in Washington state,” said Dwight Pelz, chairman of the state Democratic Party, “even if it reduced our overall odds in the Legislature.”
Democrats, however, are most enthusiastic about the coalition’s proposal for the Yakima area, which would help their chances for wresting a legislative district from Republicans.
Advocates have marshaled legal arguments in support of a legislative district that would give greater weight to Yakima Latinos. The American Civil Liberties Union and others say voting history shows the current lines have kept Latinos from participating equally. Federal law prohibits districts from being drawn with a discriminatory effect.
A GOP member of the Redistricting Commission, former U.S. Sen. Slade Gorton, said he doubts the law requires any majority-minority districts, even though he’s open to creating them.
He noted a Latino lawmaker, the late Mary Skinner, a Republican, represented the Yakima area for years.
Tacoma has no people of color in the Legislature now but has sent a few to Olympia over the years, including Bill Smitherman, Art Wang and Rosa Franklin, who retired last year.
But the districts that now cover Tacoma must grow, and Tom Hilyard of Tacoma’s Black Collective, which is part of the coalition, worries the extra people might change the district’s demographics by making it harder to elect politicians of color.
The coalition hopes its proposals would make sure King County sends more African-Americans, Asians or Latinos to the Legislature and Congress, including in a new 10th Congressional District in Seattle and south King County. Racial and ethnic minorities would make up 52 percent of the district’s population.
Jordan Schrader: 360-786-1826
The Washington State Redistricting Commission has finished its hearings, but the public has until Aug. 15 to submit proposed maps. Go to www.redistricting.wa.gov
to find out more.
The panel’s two Democrats and two Republicans will submit up to four draft maps in mid-September, then start negotiating. They hope to have an agreement by early November and must submit a final plan by Jan. 1 to the Legislature, which can make amendments.