Redistricting panel creates new boundaries for 16th District

Benton City, Prosser and part of Pasco will get new legislative representation in the 2013 legislative session under a map adopted by the state Redistricting Commission.

The plan was sent to the Legislature about two hours before the commission's drop-dead deadline late Sunday night after days of negotiations centered on how Eastern Washington's legislative districts would be redrawn using population data from the 2010 Census.

The Legislature is not required to approve the plan, and it goes into effect 30 days after the legislative session begins, according to the commission's website.

Among the biggest changes in the Mid-Columbia are the new boundaries for the 16th District, which will wrap around the Tri-Cities and pick up all of Benton County west of West Richland, and a shift south for the 9th District to cover west Pasco despite the wishes of Pasco city officials to remain in one district.

"It's unfortunate Pasco got split," said Lura Powell of Richland, who serves as the Redistricting Commission's nonvoting chairwoman.

"I didn't want it, either," Powell said. "The people of Pasco really did make their voices heard. ... I think part of the problem with Pasco is that it is so large and growing fast."

Pasco officials at a public meeting in September voiced concerns that having the city split between two legislative districts could dilute its influence.

Census data showed the state overall grew by 830,419 people from 2000-10, and a good portion of that growth was in the Mid-Columbia.

Two of the three districts representing the Mid-Columbia in the Legislature grew in population and exceeded the target population of 137,236 people per district.

The 8th District, covering Benton County, and the 16th District, covering Walla Walla and Columbia counties, as well as Pasco, Finley and part of Kennewick, both needed to shed people to make the legislative districts as equal in population as is possible.

Since the last census, the 8th District grew by 29,185 people, or about 24 percent, putting it 12,238 people above the target.

The 16th District added 34,542 people, or an increase of about 29 percent. It needed to lose 17,594 people.

The 9th District, covering Adams, Asotin, Garfield and Whitman counties, plus part of Franklin and Spokane counties, also grew but not enough to meet the target and needed to gain enough ground to add 1,070 people to bring its 2010 population of 136,166 up to the redistricting target.

Rep. Susan Fagan, R-Pullman, said she expected the 9th District to pick up part of Pasco because that was about the only place the district could go geographically, unless it went farther north into Spokane.

She said the legislative issues and residents' needs -- particularly when it comes to agriculture and small businesses -- are a good fit with the district she currently represents.

"It will feel natural to pick up Pasco," Fagan said. "However, I am really sensitive to people who say they did not want to be put into the 9th District and wanted to stay with their neighbors in the 16th. My intention is to work very hard. ... The first area I will doorbell is west Pasco when it's time to start a campaign."

On the Benton County side, Rep. Brad Klippert, R-Kennewick, said he is sorry the 8th District no longer will include Prosser and Benton City, but he understands that boundaries needed to change.

"We will be losing quite a bit of our agricultural area we represented in the past," Klippert said of the 8th District. "The 8th District had to lose a significant amount of people because this area is growing so robustly and others aren't."

But he didn't foresee 8th District legislators changing their focus much with a district consolidated into Richland, West Richland and most of Kennewick.

"We still have a lot of the same issues to cover," Klippert said.

Benton City Mayor Lloyd Carnahan and Prosser Mayor Paul Warden said they expected little to change when their towns move into the 16th District, and neither submitted comments while new legislative boundaries were being drafted.

"I don't think it's going to bother us one way or another," Carnahan said.

But West Richland Mayor Donna Noski said she was glad her town is staying put after she sent a letter to the commission in November asking to remain in the 8th District.

"It was primarily because we've been in that district for so many years, and we know our legislative representatives," Noski said "We have common interests with our sister cities of Kennewick and Richland especially, so it made a whole lot of sense for us to be able to stay in that district."

Powell said the Legislature can make minor changes to the plan but can't shift more than 2 percent of the population of any district.

"If they do, they have to pass it by a two-thirds majority of both houses," she said.

Even though not everyone could get what they wanted, Powell said she thinks having a commission draw the boundaries instead of the Legislature is a good system.

"It's a balancing act between all the things we have to put together. It's just hard to accommodate everything," she said. "After being through the experience, I truly believe the way our system is structure in Washington is the fairest way for the people and gives the best results for the people."

-- Michelle Dupler: 582-1543; mdupler@tricityherald.com