February 23, 2011 | OPB News | Original Article

U.S. Census: Washington's Latino Population Jumps 71%

Washington's Latino population grew 71-percent in the last decade. That's according to 2010 Census Data released Wednesday. The dramatic rise has implications for how Washington redraws its Congressional districts.

Since 2000, Washington's Hispanic population has grown to a total of 755,000. That's more than eleven percent of the state's residents, by far the largest minority group.

Washington's redistricting commission will have to take this into account as it draws maps to incorporate a new, tenth Congressional seat.

Lura Powell chairs that commission. She spoke by cell phone from Sea-Tac airport.

Lura Powell: "There are election laws and looking at minority populations and making sure that they are able to elect representatives to represent them appropriately is a very important thing to do."

Those election laws include the federal Voting Rights Act. But State Representative Phyllis Gutierrez Kenney, a Democrat, is worried. She notes Washington's bipartisan redistricting commission has no minorities on it.

Phyllis Gutierrez Kenney: "So we're going to be watching the redistricting very closely."

Kenney is concerned Washington's Latino vote could be diluted because the population is spread out across the state -- rather than concentrated in one place.

Phyllis Gutierrez Kenney: "Well the fear is if you don't watch then we would probably lose some potential possible seats that we could win whether it's by a Latino or whether it's someone that we feel that knows our issues and will work with us."

But in statewide elections, this growth in the Hispanic population is not a political game changer, says former Republican Party Chair Chris Vance.

Chris Vance: "In the next several elections, still, swing voters in Washington state are affluent white suburban voters, not minorities."

Still, Hispanic leaders say the 2008 presidential election energized their community and it remains more politically engaged than ever.