The new 8th district: a bridge across the state?
After the latest congressional redistricting, Washington's 8th District sheds its Bellevue-area suburban core, morphing into a more rural and presumably safe Republican seat.
Seattle Times political reporter
Ever since taking office in 2005, Republican Congressman Dave Reichert has felt the partisan bull's-eye on his back.
Democrats have vigorously targeted him in every election, believing his swing 8th Congressional District was trending their way.
Reichert was one of the clear winners of the state's latest congressional redistricting. In the redrawn political map, the 8th District sheds its Bellevue-area suburban core, morphing into a more rural and presumably safe Republican seat. As the election year begins, Reichert, for the first time, faces no major Democratic challenger.
"Usually in January we're already being ripped apart. This is the first year we haven't been attacked," he said.
Instead, Reichert faces an intriguing new choice. He could run for U.S. Senate against Democrat Maria Cantwell, as some top Republicans have urged.
Or Reichert could take the presumably easier path to re-election and learn to represent a congressional district that, for the first time, crosses the so-called "Cascade Curtain" separating the wet and dry sides of the state.
In an interview last week, Reichert seemed perfectly at ease with his new district, though he joked: "I feel like I should be in a trailer," referring to the need to pack up his Mercer Island office, which will no longer be in his district after the November election. That area will be absorbed along with Bellevue into the 9th District, currently represented by Democrat Adam Smith.
Asked about persistent rumors he'll run for U.S. Senate, Reichert confirmed he's been urged to run by some top Republicans, including Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Sen. John Thune, R-S.D. But he remained noncommittal.
"I don't think I'm at a place where I feel like I have all the information I need," he said.
Reichert would not elaborate on what information he was waiting for.
But he did list some reasons to remain in the House.
"I'm very happy where I am," he said, noting the recent retirement announcement by Rep. Geoff Davis, R-Kentucky, which would bump him in seniority among Republicans on the powerful House Ways and Means Committee.
If Reichert does get re-elected, he'll represent a new kind of district — one that joins together swaths of the east and west sides of the state.
The district runs from the eastern portions of King and Pierce counties across the Interstate 90 corridor to Chelan and Kittitas counties, which have until now been in U.S. Rep. Doc Hastings' 4th Congressional District. That puts Issaquah and Reichert's hometown of Auburn in the same district as Wenatchee and Ellensburg.
It's a merger that has led to some fretting in Eastern Washington that their concerns will take a back seat to the more populated western half of the 8th District.
As Wilfred Woods, chairman of The Wenatchee World, wrote in the newspaper last week: "We are not especially happy about the prospect of being tied to the west side, but are hoping for the best."
"When you are the small kid at the end of the little card table, all the people at the big table aren't paying attention no matter what you are saying," said Kittitas County Commissioner Obie O'Brien, a Republican. "I very much have a concern about how we will be represented."
State Rep. Cary Condotta, R-East Wenatchee, was more optimistic about the logic of the new district. "The state's been clearly divided for some time and I almost think it creates a bridge across the state. We might see a little less divide in the long run," he said.
But Condotta questioned whether Reichert is the right person to represent the region. "I don't think he's got a clue about Eastern Washington," he said.
Condotta added that many Eastern Washington Republicans see Reichert as too liberal — something that could lead to a challenge from the right if Reichert doesn't shift along with the district, if not in 2012, then in the future.
"I think he's going to be watched very carefully," Condotta said.
For now, Reichert's only declared opponent is little-known Democrat Karen Porterfield, who has reported raising no money. Reichert has $344,000 in his campaign fund, according to the Federal Election Commission.
Fredi Simpson, vice chairwoman of the Chelan County Republicans and a national committeewoman, said she was encouraged that Reichert started talking with leaders in the new parts of his district as soon as the new maps were agreed to by the bipartisan redistricting panel Jan. 1.
"The fact that he was reaching out immediately, I think that says a lot for his character," she said.
Reichert said he's more familiar with the east side of the state than some might think.
He traveled the state and worked well with Eastern Washington law enforcement when he was King County sheriff. Reichert and his wife have owned a cabin for years on a 3-acre spread near Lake Chelan. His children attended Central Washington University in Ellensburg. And his son lives in the tiny town of Monitor, Chelan County, near Wenatchee.
"I'm over there a lot," he said.
For years, Reichert fended off Democratic challenges in his swing district by cultivating a reputation as a moderate, courting environmentalists with votes on wilderness protection and to cap greenhouse gases, for example. In unguarded moments, Reichert told audiences those votes were necessary to protect his re-election chances.
Asked whether he'd change if he represents a more conservative district, Reichert offered no clear picture. He was critical of the Obama administration, which he said has tried to impose burdensome environmental regulations, such as restrictions on coal-burning power plants.
He said his general approach would be the same: "gather the facts" and listen to the advice of scientists and make an informed choice.
"I'll be a leader, not a follower," he said. At the same time, he added "I think you have to listen to your constituents."
Jim Brunner: 206-515-5628 or firstname.lastname@example.org.