Eastern Washington needs spot on redistricting panel

January 13, 2011 

Washington's 10th congressional seat -- a welcome result of the latest census -- will land somewhere in Western Washington.

That doesn't mean voters on the dry side of the Cascades won't be affected, however.

Squeezing an additional district into the state, then reshuffling boundaries as needed to ensure equal representation in all 10, will have statewide consequences.

If that weren't enough to warrant the attention of east-side voters, redistricting efforts also will include all of the state's 49 legislative districts.

In short, it matters.

Earlier this week, The Seattle Times' editorial board recommended the nonvoting chairman of the Washington State Redistricting Commission come from Eastern Washington.

It's a terrific idea, and not without precedent. We're adding our voice to the call.

Democrats named two west-siders to the committee -- Tim Ceis, former Seattle deputy mayor, and Dean Foster, former chief clerk of the state House. So did the Republicans -- former U.S. Sen. Slade Gorton and former state Rep. Tom Huff.

The Times editorial also notes that all four are white males, and recommends that in addition to being an Eastern Washington resident, the fifth panelist also be a woman or a person of color.

That might be desirable, but we're more interested in adding some geographic diversity to the commission. Insufficient knowledge about Eastern Washington's interests, history, alliances and rivalries carries a bigger risk for the panel's work.

Poorly drawn voting districts can leave pockets of voters who are virtually disenfranchised.

The redistricting panel created in response to the 2000 census found itself in a similar predicament, with all four voting members from Western Washington.

Spokane native Graham Johnson, a former Eastern Washington University official with a history of community service, was named chairman by the four voting commissioners.

The new panel ought to draw a lesson from the past and find a qualified chairman from the east side.

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