Inside Opinion

What's on the minds of Tacoma News Tribune editorial writers

NOTICE: Inside Opinion has moved.

With the launch of our new website, we've moved Inside Opinion.
Visit the new section.

County redistricting should put community first

Post by TNT Editorial Board / The News Tribune on July 10, 2011 at 7:55 pm |
July 10, 2011 7:55 pm

This editorial will appear in Monday’s print edition.

Something important gets lost in the partisan posturing over redrawing Pierce County Council districts to reflect new census counts.

That something is this: County Council seats exist to ensure the representation of communities, not political parties.

Politicking is a natural part of the process, as it is in any endeavor that portends political winners and losers. But the best redistricting methods acknowledge the interests of the parties and control for their attempts to gerrymander.

That said, none is perfect, and Pierce County’s system has its share of imperfections.

Among its faults: The county charter gives sweeping power to a hired hand – the districting master.

That master, Steven Garrett, is coming under fire for his ties to a similar process at the state level. Garrett is a geographic information system analyst who advises the two Democratic appointees to the Washington State Redistricting Commission.

He divulged that information to the county districting committee members – who include two Republicans, one a former chair of the county party – when they interviewed him back in April.

But Republicans apparently didn’t think to raise the issue until now, when it appears that one of their own – Councilman Stan Flemming of University Place – will have his council district drawn out from under him.

The Republicans seem to forget that in the last go-around, they did the same thing in a worse way, mounting a back-room coup that redistricted Democrat Calvin Goings out of his seat with little public notice.

That plan stood a court test, and Garrett’s might too. Republicans complain that he bolsters left-leaning Tacoma votes by splitting the city into four districts. But Tacomans would be the majority in just two of the four. In some respects, the proposed map looks like a return to what council districts looked like before the 2001 redistricting.

A simple solution to the Flemming problem exists: Renumber the districts so that he remains in District 7. But that has drawbacks for both parties and apparently little support from either.

Keeping incumbents in their districts – to represent the people who elected them – is worth doing if possible, but it is not the overriding goal of redistricting.

More troubling than the lack of incumbency protection is the way Garrett’s plan divides the 35,000 residents of Parkland into two council districts, possibly diluting the voice of an unincorporated area that already struggles to be heard.

A previous version of the map kept Parkland together, but at the cost of bigger population variances between council districts.

The county charter makes it clear that boundaries of districts “shall be drawn to produce districts with compact and contiguous territory, composed of geographic units and natural communities, which are approximately equal in population.”

“Shall” is a pretty strong word. It doesn’t have near the give of “approximately.”

If the county districting committee’s five members can muster four votes to do anything when they meet for a final time Tuesday, the show of force should be a vote for keeping communities – not political careers – whole.

*
The News Tribune now uses Facebook commenting on selected blogs. See editor's column for more details. Commenters are expected to abide by terms of service for Facebook as well as commenting rules for thenewstribune.com. Report violators to webmaster@thenewstribune.com.