Redistricting shifts most of county to first congressional district

Published on Wed, Jan 18, 2012 by Jeremy Schwartz

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Blaine and Birch Bay residents will share a Congressional representative with parts of Seattle and Everett now that the state redistricting commission has finalized new district lines.

All of Whatcom County outside Bellingham is now in the first congressional district, which stretches 100 miles south to include Skagit, Snohomish and portions of King counties. Blaine and Birch Bay, along with most of Whatcom County, had previously been in the second congressional district, represented by Democratic Representative Rick Larsen.

Washington gained a 10th congressional district in 2010, laying out a year’s worth of work for the Washington State Redistricting Commission, communications director Genevieve O’Sullivan said. The commission, comprising two Democrats, two Republicans and a non-voting chair, worked throughout 2011 to reorganize Washington’s congressional and legislative districts so that they had as close to the same populations as possible, she explained.

Since Washington gained a 10th congressional district, the state’s existing nine had to lose population. Redistricting commissioners analyzed population figures and census demographics to determine how best to maintain equitable representation while decreasing each district’s size, O’Sullivan explained.

“For that reason, the whole state shifted quite dramatically in the way districts are drawn,” she said.

This shift left the first district without a representative, with six Democrats and three Republicans throwing in their names as candidates for the vacant congressional seat.

Whatcom Democrats chair Natalie McClendon said she generally agrees with the new boundaries the redistricting commission has drawn. Referencing the six Democrats who are interested, McClendon said the race will feature some interesting and impressive candidates.

“It’s going to be a free-for-all,” she said.

The Democratic candidates include Washington State senator Steve Hobbs of Lake Stevens, former state legislator Laura Ruderman of Kirkland, Darcy Burner of Redmond, Darshan Rauniyar of Bothell and state representative Roger Goodman of Kirkland (previously left of this list is former state Department of Revenue director Suzane DelBene).

Since Washington runs a top-two primary election, voters in the first district are not guaranteed one Democratic and one Republican candidate in the November general election. Despite this, McClendon said Democrats and Republicans she’s talked to consider the new first a balanced district, and she is hoping to help Democrats understand their candidates closer to the August 7 primary.

The lack of an incumbent in the first means the race will most likely attract national attention, since Democrats and Republicans have an effectively equal chance of securing the spot, McClendon explained. This means a great deal of campaign contributions from outside the state will be poured into this election, just as out-of-state money helped influence the 2010 congressional race, she said.

Whatcom Republicans chair Luanne Van Werven said the first congressional district will slightly favor Republicans because it now includes a great deal of rural farmland in Whatcom, Skagit and Snohomish counties.

Republican candidates for the first district include Snohomish County Commissioner John Koster, who ran an unsuccessful bid for Larsen’s seat in 2010, Kirkland resident James Watkins and Whatcom County resident Greg Anders. Though not preferring a specific candidate, Van Werven said having a member of congress who lives in Whatcom County would be a boon to the area.

“Having a congressional candidate from Whatcom County [will be] a rare privilege,” she said.

Despite the myriad candidates, Van Werven said the inclusion of Whatcom County in the first congressional district could dilute its influence nationally. Whatcom County went from comprising 33 percent of the second district’s population to just 17 percent of the first’s. Van Werven said she fears the first will become King County-centric and neglect the needs of the more rural counties.

“We will share the same congressman as Bill Gates,” Van Werven said.

However, Van Werven said the 2012 elections will ultimately show how good of a job the redistricting commission did.

“If the first elects a Republican, five Republicans [and five Democrats] will be sent to D.C.,” she said. “If the two parties can split the state delegation, then I think the redistricting will have done its job.”

The new district boundaries will be finalized on February 7 and will be in place until the 2020 census.