The 2011 edition of the Washington State Redistricting Commission is the gift that keeps on giving.
Partisan commissioners met mostly in secret to produce maps that work mostly to help incumbents and create noncompetitive districts. And now we find that one of the most significant economic centers in Pierce County will be represented in Congress by a guy from Bellevue.
Sometime over the summer, the 9th District congressman transformed himself from U.S. Rep. Adam Smith, D-Tacoma, to U.S. Rep. Adam Smith, D-Bellevue. Or, as The Seattle Times joked (we think), “D-Not Tacoma.”
When the new maps came out last New Year’s, it didn’t seem that galling that the Port of Tacoma remained in a district that now reached up into Seattle and included Mercer Island and Bellevue. The reason for transforming a district that once had Tacoma at its center was noble – creating a so-called majority-minority district that gave minority politicians a legitimate chance of winning office.
Only Northeast Tacoma, Dash Point, Browns Point, the port and the Tacoma Dome District remained from the old 9th. But since Smith’s Pointe Woodworth home literally overlooked the port, the congressman could certainly be counted on to figuratively do so.
Then Smith told The News Tribune in the course of a pre-election interview that he and his family had moved to Bellevue and his children had transferred from Tacoma Public Schools to the Issaquah School District. His congressional district office on the southern edge of downtown Tacoma also will be closed at year’s end and be relocated somewhere more central to the new district, he said.
Smith can move if he wants. But I wonder why the redistricting commission kept the Port of Tacoma in a district that now had very little physical or political connection to Tacoma. It’s not like Smith wasn’t working closely with the two Democratic commissioners – emails obtained under state open records laws show him asking for and getting changes to proposed district lines.
Smith knew, for example, that the 9th was targeted to become the state’s first majority-minority district and would need to shift north to capture Asian American, black and Hispanic neighborhoods in South King County and south Seattle. As a moderate who agreed to take on the state’s second-most- liberal district, Smith had some bargaining power. If he had any inkling then that he would move north, he could have told the commissioners.
They still might have kept his Northeast Tacoma house in the new 9th so as not to force Smith to run in a district he didn’t currently live in (a political burden, though not a legal one). But there was no reason to keep the port there as well, because moving it to the 6th Congressional District wouldn’t have changed the population balance or the politics of the new congressional maps one bit.
The port would be a far better fit in the 6th District, which once again includes most of the city, including all of downtown.
Smith will pledge to give port issues his full attention. And those with the port’s interests at heart will certainly not complain or do anything to alienate their congressman. The tag-team effort to look after port concerns between 6th District Rep. Norm Dicks, D-Belfair, and Smith will likely continue with whomever is chosen by voters to replace Dicks.
But for the redistricting commission to use the port as a puzzle piece rather than a vital economic player is another example of how commissioners placed the legal requirement to keep communities of interest together well behind partisan political considerations.
Smith had moved to Tacoma from the Tukwila area he’d represented in the state Senate only after he was elected to Congress in 1996. Still, it was nice to have a city resident in Congress for the first time since 6th District U.S. Rep. Floyd Hicks left office in 1977.
It manifested itself in both big ways and small ways, such as when the athletic Smith played (and sometimes starred) in the annual Congressional Baseball Game wearing a Tacoma Rainiers uniform.
Should he play in the game again, he’ll certainly jettison that minor league jersey and wear one from the Seattle Mariners. Adam Smith has been called up to the big leagues.Peter Callaghan: 253-597-8657