Richland woman to direct 10th district boundaries

RICHLAND — A Richland woman has been picked to join and lead the commission that will draw boundaries for a 10th congressional district for Washington state's growing population.

The four members of the commission unanimously picked Lura Powell, the retired director of Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Richland, as the fifth member of the commission and its chairwoman. It is a nonvoting position.

The four voting members -- two Republicans and two Democrats -- were appointed by legislative caucus leaders.

In addition to creating a new congressional district in Western Washington, the commission will look at changes to the state's 49 legislative districts based on census data. By law, districts are supposed to have roughly equal populations.

Because the four members picked by Republicans and Democrats were from Western Washington, the commission had public pressure to name the fifth member from Eastern Washington. In addition, the caucuses had named all men.

Commissioner Slade Gorton, picked by the Senate Republican Caucus, said he did pay attention to public opinion that the panel needed to be balanced by someone from Eastern Washington and needed to be more diverse.

But among the 30 names he considered for the position, Powell stood out because of her strong background, he said.

The Department of Energy national laboratory in Richland has an excellent reputation, he said. Powell, educated as a chemist, retired from the lab in 2002 after about three years as director.

Before coming to the Tri-Cities, Powell was a high-ranking administrator with the Department of Commerce, where she founded and built the biotechnology division.

She has remained in the Tri-Cities after leaving the national lab and now is chairwoman of the Board of Trustees for the Washington State Life Sciences Discovery fund, a $350 million program that finances life sciences research.

She has gotten to know people around the state in her work, but is not highly partisan, Gorton said.

Powell describes herself as nonpartisan or bipartisan, according to a statement from the office of the Washington Secretary of State.

She was sworn in Friday by Secretary of State Sam Reed in Olympia.

The commission already included Gorton, a three-term U.S. senator, and Tom Huff, the former state House budget chairman, both Republic picks.

Democrats picked Tim Ceis, a former Seattle deputy mayor, and Dean Foster, former chief administrator for the state House.

Its work will begin in earnest in April when detailed census information becomes available to show where the population in the state has changed or shifted location.

Early data shows the state's population has grown by 14.1 percent since the 2000 census and qualifies for another representative to Congress.

The commission has the rest of the year to hold public hearings across the state and draw new maps, with votes of at least three of the commissioners required to approve them.

* Annette Cary: 509-582-1533; acary@tricityherald.com.