Washington one of few Dem-leaning states to gain congressional seat
Washington will gain a 10th U.S. House seat in 2012 thanks to strong population growth over the last decade, based on census figures released Tuesday. That makes it one of the few Democratic-leaning states to see its political clout increase.
How the 10th District will be createdThe bipartisan Washington State Redistricting Commission will begin redrawing boundaries in January, based on census data. How the process works:
Makeup: The panel will consist of four voting members, two each chosen by Democratic and Republican legislative leaders. Democrats have named their picks: former Seattle Deputy Mayor Tim Ceis and former state House Clerk Dean Foster. Voting members will pick a fifth, nonvoting member as chair.
Equality: The 10 congressional and 49 legislative districts must be equal in population: about 672,000 people per congressional district and 137,000 per legislative district.
Agreement: To ensure bipartisan cooperation, at least three of the four voting members must agree on the political maps. (If they can't agree, the task falls to the state Supreme Court.) The final maps must be approved by the Legislature, which can make only minor changes. The first elections under the new districts will occur in 2012.
More information: For details, including maps and charts, visit www.sos.wa.gov/elections/redistricting
Source: Washington Secretary of State's Office
Washington will gain a 10th U.S. House seat in 2012 thanks to strong population growth over the past decade, making it one of the few Democratic-leaning states to see its political clout increase based on Census Bureau figures released Tuesday.
Of eight states that gained congressional districts, five backed Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., for president two years ago. The big winner was Texas, a state that routinely backs Republicans for president. Its population has swelled by about 21 percent since 2000 and as a result will add four House seats.
In Washington state, officials hailed the census announcement as good news.
"It's a win for the people of the state of Washington in the sense of obviously a little more clout in Congress," Secretary of State Sam Reed said.
Also picking up seats were Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Nevada, South Carolina and Utah.
The gains come at the expense of some states whose growth has been stunted by the decline of manufacturing. Many have been historically Democratic; of 10 states that will lose seats, eight backed President Obama in 2008.
New York and Ohio took the biggest hits, losing two congressional seats each. Illinois, Iowa, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Mississippi, New Jersey and Pennsylvania each lost a single seat.
The reapportionment of 435 House seats takes place every 10 years, with seats allocated based on the census.
In most states, the legislature is in charge of the politically charged job of redrawing congressional boundaries. The process frequently produces nasty partisan brawls as majority parties try to cement their dominance by gerrymandering districts.
But the job in Washington state falls to a bipartisan commission aimed at avoiding such fights.
The Washington State Redistricting Commission will consist of four voting members, two appointed by Democratic legislative leaders and two by their Republican counterparts.
The commission's Democratic members have been named: former Seattle Deputy Mayor Tim Ceis and former state House Clerk Dean Foster. Republican appointees will be named by mid-January.
The commission will spend 2011 creating the new 10th congressional district and adjusting boundaries of the other nine districts. The panel also is charged with adjusting the 49 state legislative districts to account for population changes.
Districts must be nearly equal in population, with about 672,000 people in each congressional district and 137,200 in each legislative district.
To ensure a bipartisan compromise, three of the four commissioners must agree on a new political map by the end of next year.
Effective for 2012 vote
The first election for the new congressional seat will take place in 2012.
That new congressional district is bound to be located in heavily populated Western Washington, and some experts predict it could be carved out of the fast-growing south Puget Sound area now covered by the 3rd, 8th and 9th districts — including parts of Pierce, Thurston and Lewis counties.
But Reed said a new district conceivably could be placed around northeast King County.
In any case, Reed said, Democrats and Republicans probably will strive to ensure a swing district — one where both sides have a shot at winning the new House seat.
Each of the state's existing congressional districts will have to shrink and change shape somewhat to squeeze in the 10th.
That could have political implications for the state's incumbent House members, who will lose portions of their current constituencies.
"I think there is more on the line for incumbents than whoever runs in a new district," said Christian Sinderman, a Democratic political consultant.
For example, if the new 10th district absorbs parts of south Pierce County, that could take away Republican-leaning areas that are now part of the 8th District, held by Republican Rep. Dave Reichert.
Likewise, if the 2nd District of Northwest Washington shrinks, Democratic Rep. Rick Larsen could lose Democratic-leaning parts of Snohomish County.
But both parties are sure to fight to protect their incumbents in the redistricting process.
And the redistricting could prove good news for newly elected 3rd District Rep. Jaime Herrera, a Republican. Several political observers say her district may grow more conservative, losing the Olympia area while gaining portions of the more rural Klickitat and Yakima counties.
The national changes have implications for presidential elections because House seats determine the number of votes that each state has in the Electoral College. White House spokesman Robert Gibbs on Monday played down any effect the change might have on Obama's re-election prospects, noting the census simply accounts for population shifts and does not dramatically change the political landscape.
"I don't think that shifting some seats from one area of the country to another necessarily marks a concern that you can't make a politically potent argument in those new places," he said.
The shift will change the partisan lean from blue to red of a net of six electoral votes. That appears to favor Republicans in the short term. However, much of the population spike in states that gained congressional districts, such as Texas and Arizona, is due to an influx of Hispanics, who tend to vote Democratic.
Washington state now will receive 12 electoral votes, second most in the Western states, after California's 55.
Times political reporter Jim Brunner provided local coverage for this story. He can be reached at 206-515-5628 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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