Four plans surface to shrink County Council
The King County Districting Committee is in the midst of a delicate game of musical chairs that will cost at least a few politicians their jobs. As required by County Charter Amendment...
Seattle Times staff reporter
The King County Districting Committee is in the midst of a delicate game of musical chairs that will cost at least a few politicians their jobs.
As required by County Charter Amendment 1A, passed by voters in the Nov. 2 election, the five-member panel is redrawing the county's political map to shrink the 13-member Metropolitan King County Council to nine members.
Every council member must run for re-election next fall. While some incumbents are almost certain to receive safe new districts, others may wind up battling council colleagues to keep their jobs.
The districting committee yesterday released four redistricting proposals, two from each party. By Friday evening, the committee must come up with a single draft consensus map. The final plan must be completed by Jan. 15.
The new district boundaries will shape November's County Council races. Which areas of the county get lumped together into the new districts also could alter the political landscape in more subtle ways.
The Democrats won their current 7-6 majority in the 2001 elections; before that, Republicans had been in the majority since 1994.
The redistricting process has been made somewhat less contentious by the announced departures of two current council members. Rob McKenna, R-Bellevue, was elected state attorney general; and Dwight Pelz, D-Seattle, has said he will seek a Seattle City Council seat.
The parties have been forced to choose which of their own to support — by proposing district boundaries that would not require a sitting council member to run against another incumbent — and which to leave out in the cold.
Council members are required to live in the district they represent.
On the Democratic side, the likeliest casualty seems to be District 2 Councilman Bob Ferguson. In 2003, running on a platform that supported shrinking the council, Ferguson unseated Democratic incumbent Cynthia Sullivan, who had held her seat for 20 years.
"It may not be entirely a coincidence that I'm ... the one guy that gets carved up each time," he said about the Democratic proposals, both of which would pit Ferguson against another Democratic incumbent.
The Republican and Democratic proposals represent distinct strategies for gaining the majority.
Although King County as a whole leans Democratic, if the strongly Democratic areas are lumped together in four districts, the Republican party could retake the council with victories in the remaining districts.
Both Republican proposals lay out four strongly Democratic districts (Districts 1-4 in maps A and B) and five "swing" districts that are nearly evenly split between the parties, based on results from the most recent elections.
The GOP also is looking to divide East King County's rural area, which leans heavily Republican, into three different districts.
"King County is the only form of local government" for rural residents, said Republican-nominated Districting Committee member Skip Rowley.
By contrast, the Democratic Party is looking to take a commanding 6-3 majority and to limit the number of largely rural districts to two. The two Democratic proposals lay out five strongly Democratic districts (1, 2, 4, 8 and 9 in maps C and D), two swing districts (5 and 7), and two GOP-leaning districts (3 and 6).
The Districting Committee was charged with developing 193,000-person districts that are "compact and contiguous," reflect existing natural and political boundaries and group "communities of related and mutual interest."
But in order to come up with districts that were consistent with the parties' overall strategy, those guidelines seem to have been bent a bit.
Councilwoman Jane Hague, R-Kirkland, pointed to the way that the proposals toss Mercer Island back and forth across Lake Washington: Both Democratic proposals group it with East-Central Seattle, while the Republican proposals keep it with Bellevue.
Michael Mann, one of the Democratic members of the Districting Committee, said that in order to reach the required population total, the Republicans' third "rural" district (district 6 in maps A and B), winds through the South County cities — stretching all the way to Puget Sound in map B — in a way that is hardly "compact."
Both sides agree that the cities around the north shore of Lake Washington — Lake Forest Park, Kenmore, Bothell and Woodinville — epitomize "communities of related and mutual interest." But the four proposals each split the four communities along different lines.
The Districting Committee will take public comment at meetings tomorrow and Thursday in Lake Forest Park and Auburn. Then, at a working meeting Friday at the King County Courthouse, the members plan to draft a final plan. The public will be able to comment on that draft at a meeting at the King County Courthouse on Saturday morning.
The committee plans to meet again next week to review public testimony and make small changes to the draft, which it plans to submit to the County Clerk on Jan. 15. The County Council does not vote on or otherwise approve the new district boundaries.
Jim Downing: 206-515-5627 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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