For a couple of guys named Hans (and a woman named Dawn) smaller is better – as in legislative districts.
Hans Dunshee, Hans Zeiger and Dawn Morrell are sponsoring House Bill 1121 that would tell the next Washington State Redistricting Commission to change the way it remaps the state when it meets again in 2021.
The bill directs that commission to continue to divide the state into 49 districts of equal population. But once that is done, the commissioners would then divide each of those into equal A and B halves. A senator would represent the entire district but the two House members would represent one-half each.
For a Legislature that is having enough trouble solving current issues, it might seem ambitious to take on a problem – if it is a problem – that won’t come around for nearly another decade. Sponsors must see an advantage to striking now while current legislators still have fresh scars from the recent redistricting battles.
As a concept, there’s nothing inherently wrong with this one. If a House member – or a candidate for the House – could be responsible for 70,000 residents rather than 140,000, good things might result. In an op-ed column published this week on Crosscut.com, Hans and Hans argued such a politician could spend less money campaigning, less time fund raising, could speak to a larger percentage of potential voters, could know the half-a-district more intimately and could have more time to concentrate on the problems and issues of the half-a-district.
And it must be politically benign, you see, because it is agreed to by liberal Democrat Dunshee, moderate Democrat Morrell and conservative Republican Zeiger.
It is not without precedent. When Republicans controlled the Legislature in 1981, they divided two legislative districts into A and B parts. Those were the 39th in Snohomish County and the 19th in southwest Washington.
These two split districts weren’t created for all the reasons cited by the Hanses. Instead it was done for partisan campaign purposes. You see, each of the two districts were Democratic or potentially Democratic as a whole. But through clever map-drawing, enough Republicans could be concentrated in one half to create a subdistrict the GOP could win.
The next redistricting was done, not by the Legislature itself but by the newly created bipartisan commission. The myth of reform maintains that this bipartisan commission has wrung all the dirty politics out of the process. It must be politically benign, you see, because plans must be agreed to by both Democrats and Republicans.
But a look at emails exchanged by commissioners, partisan staffers and incumbent lawmakers throughout 2011 shows that politics and political advantage were the overriding factors in the creation of the new districts.
Not to pick on Dunshee, who is actually a pretty skookum legislator, but he was not above trying to pressure the two Democratic commissioners. For example, in an email to a Democratic commission staffer, he noted that his district was in play because it “is one of the ones the GOPs think they can take.
“I don’t like the Marysville hill, but the new downtown area ought to be OK, at least I can talk to them,” the Snohomish lawmaker wrote. “The GOP attempt is to make the district impossible to doorbell, just their kind of voter – isolated, ignorant and lower income.”
Dunshee was less involved than some other incumbents who were not only helping decide boundaries but lobbying to exclude potential rivals from the new lines.
Puyallup’s Zeiger and Morrell represent an increasingly rare type of district – one that can swing both ways – and received careful scrutiny from the commission. Having it carved up into a GOP half and a Democratic half wouldn’t hurt either politicians’ feelings (presuming either is still around to benefit in 2022).
Should HB 1121 pass, rather than try to win partisan advantage in 49 districts, the next commission would have the chance to put demographic data and computing power to work on 98.
The bill is a good-government idea that might suffer from its reliance on political institutions that don’t always have good government in mind.peter.callaghan@ thenewstribune.com 253-597-8657 blog.thenewstribune.com/politics @CallaghanPeter