Redistricting sets up political battleground in Snohomish County

OLYMPIA – Washington’s new congressional district will encompass the state capital and redraw a district southeast of Seattle where ethnic minorities will make up the majority.

But it is in Snohomish County where the most vigorous battle for a House seat may be fought in 2012, based on new congressional district boundaries proposed Wednesday by two members of the Washington State Redistricting Commission.

Cities and towns on the county’s east flank are drawn into a significantly redesigned 1st Congressional District, where there’s no incumbent because U.S. Rep. Jay Inslee, D-Wash., is vacating the seat to run for governor.

The proposed district stretches south from the Canadian border through farm land and suburban communities of eastern Whatcom, Skagit and Snohomish counties, ending in the well-to-do enclave of Medina in King County.

“It may be the most evenly divided congressional district in the United States of America,” said Republican commissioner Slade Gorton, who negotiated with Democratic commissioner Tim Ceis on the proposed map released Wednesday.

“That will be a very competitive race,” Ceis said of the looming electoral tussle. “It will be a race to watch in 2012.”

Before Wednesday, seven Democrats – including state Sen. Steve Hobbs of Lake Stevens, state Rep. Marko Liias of Edmonds and Darshan Rauniyar of Bothell — and one Republican had been campaigning for Inslee’s job.

When the map came out, a second Republican, Snohomish County Councilman John Koster, entered the fray as his home east of Arlington got shifted out of the 2nd Congressional District and into the 1st.

“I think the lines look good. I think it’s a good district. Many of those areas I’ve run in before,” said Koster, who lost to U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen, D-Wash., in 2010.

The inclusion of Medina opens the door for another Democratic entry, Suzan DelBene, who spent nearly $2.8 million in an unsuccessful run against U.S. Rep. Dave Reichert, R-Wash., in 2010.

Meanwhile, Liias may be forced out of the competition, since Edmonds is not in the district, as he had anticipated. Liias could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

Though the map released Wednesday is deemed a draft, the four voting members of the commission won’t be making many adjustments. They face a Jan. 1 deadline to approve new boundaries for the state’s congressional and legislative districts, or the task gets kicked to the state Supreme Court.

What the commission’s two Democrats and two Republicans approve will go to the Legislature, where lawmakers have until early February to review and make minor adjustments. The final boundaries will be in effect for the 2012 elections.

Redistricting is done every 10 years following the U.S. Census to ensure that the 49 legislative districts in Washington and the 435 seats in the U.S. House of Representatives are divided as equally as possible by population.

This time around, Washington picked up a 10th seat in the House after adding roughly 800,000 new residents in the past decade.

Figuring out where to put it and how to reconfigure the nine existing districts has been the subject of intense negotiation in recent days between Ceis and Gorton.

In the end, parts of Snohomish County wound up in the 1st, 2nd and 7th congressional districts.

The 2nd District, served by Larsen, will shed communities in east Snohomish County and add the cities of Mukilteo, Lynnwood, Mountlake Terrace and Brier. The district already includes Everett, Marysville and Arlington.

Larsen, who owns a residence in Everett, said he was satisfied with the results and will run in the revamped district.

“And I’m pleasantly surprised that my hometown of Arlington is still in the district,” he said. “My mom will be very happy.”

The proposed map puts Edmonds and Woodway in a revamped 7th District, a seat held by a Seattle liberal Democrat, Jim McDermott.

When it came to the new congressional seat, Ceis and Gorton anchored it in Thurston and Pierce counties.

And within hours of the map’s releases, Democrat Denny Heck and Republican Dick Muri launched campaigns for the office. Both men ran unsuccessfully for Congress in 2010.

Commissioners also were pushed hard to create the state’s first congressional district where ethnic minorities such as Latinos, Asian Americans and African Americans make up a majority of the population.

Gorton and Ceis accomplished that, barely, by reconfiguring the 9th Congressional District served by Democrat Adam Smith. It would stretch from Tacoma to Bellevue, taking in cities along I-5 and Highway 167.

Barring any major change, 50.33 percent of the population will be ethnic minorities, according to the commissioners.

Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623;

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