Every ten years following the U.S. Census, Washington State undergoes a redistricting process to rebalance each of the state’s 49 legislative districts so they all have roughly equal populations.
The task of the bipartisan Washington Redistricting Commission is to redraw each district into equal sizes based on the 2010 Census while respecting communities of interest. It must also be careful not to politically disadvantage minority populations protected by the U.S Voting Rights Act.
In addition, the four commissioners—former U.S. Sen. Slade Gorton, former deputy Seattle mayor Tim Ceis, former state Rep. Tom Huff, and former House chief clerk Dean Foster—must draw the states into 10 congressional districts, a process known as reapportionment.
This year’s redistricting process has drawn unusual interest because Washington was one of only eight states to be awarded a new congressional district. In a recent Seattle Times op-ed, Pramila Jayapal and George Cheung, outlined the significance of that development.
“Today, one in four Washington residents is a person of color and one in eight is an immigrant,” they said. “These changes afford our first opportunity to create a congressional district where the majority of residents are people of color. There is also an opportunity to create up to two Central Washington legislative districts where most residents are people of color.”
This fall, United for Fair Representation, a coalition of civic organizations, submitted a unity map that drew specific districts to maximize representation for people of color and launched an education campaign to encourage citizens to attend 18 public hearings across the state.
Members of the coalition were encouraged by the results of that public process. Three of four commissioners—Slade Gorton, Tom Huff, and Tim Ceis—released first-draft maps that included two congressional districts in Central Washington and a congressional district in South King County with a majority of residents who are people of color.
Despite that positive development, however, Asian Pacific Islander Americans for Civic Empowerment (APACE), a member of United for Fair Representation, is concerned about the future of the 11th Legislative District, which includes Renton, Tukwila, Burien, and parts of Beacon Hill.
South Seattle is currently represented in both the 11th District and 37th District by three representatives of color: Sharon Tomiko Santos, Eric Pettigrew, and Bob Hasegawa. In addition, the 11th District’s Senator Margarita Prentice is also a person of color. The Redistricting Commission’s current plans for State Legislature might draw Hasegawa out of the 11th District.
The Commission is considering moving the 11th District out of the city of Seattle and eliminating Beacon Hill, parts of SODO, and South Park from the District. With the elimination of Seattle from the district, Hasegawa would lose his seat.
“The most likely scenario the Commission will propose is that I will be placed into the 37th District, which already has two good incumbents in the House of Representatives,” Hasegawa said. “If that happens, I will then need to choose to run against one of those incumbents.”
He continued, “South Seattle currently has the benefit of being represented by both the 11th District, myself and Zack Hudgins, and the 37th District, Sharon Tomiko Santos and Eric Pettigrew. We work well together to make sure our communities are well-represented and we present a strong collective voice.”
“Carving out the Seattle portion of the 11th District diminishes the current diversity of representation in the legislature, diminishes the current voice for communities of interest between the diverse areas now served by both the 11th and 37th, diminishes Seattle representation in the legislature, possibility pits communities against each other by forcing three sitting legislators to run for only two available seats, and overall diminishes the power our communities of interest have in the legislature,” Hasegawa said.
Cherry Cayabyab concurs. “Washington State is gaining a congressional district because of the growth of communities of color over this past decade. Representation in the state legislature of these diverse populations should appropriately reflect this growth. This must be encouraged and supported. Currently only six percent of the state legislators are of color while the population of color is twenty-five percent.”
Akemi Matsumoto of APACE said, “With the elimination of Seattle from the 11th District, we would lose Bob Hasegawa, a representative who has served his district extremely well. The point of effective civic engagement is to increase the participation and representation of our community’s constituents. Redistricting should increase both participation and representation, not diminish it.”
A long-time labor and social justice activist, Bob Hasegawa has been an effective legislator for the 11th District. To ensure that communities of color are adequately represented in the state legislature, the Washington State Redistricting Commission must strive to preserve and maintain the best interests of that community by not diminishing the district’s diversity of representation.