June 8, 2011 | Tri-City Herald | Original Article

Latinos hope redistricting board won't split vote

PASCO -- Ideas for redrawing the Mid-Columbia's political map presented at a public forum Tuesday were as diverse as the region's burgeoning population.

Some of the 60 people who turned out at Columbia Basin College in Pasco for the meeting with the state's Redistricting Commission urged commissioners not to split up Latino voters as they redraw lines in Yakima and the Tri-Cities.

"I'm basically here to ask you to make this as fair as possible," said Jazmin Santacruz, Eastern Washington organizer for activist group One America. "We want to ensure immigrants, refugees and people of color have fair representation."

Others said the boundaries should be about geography and population centers rather than cultural or ethnic groups.

"This is an American process," said John Talbott, a Franklin County resident. "We are all Americans. We all know what's going on in our country. We all know how to vote. ... Just give us district boundaries that make sense. Districts that look like fishhooks don't make sense."

Since Washington picked up a 10th Congressional District in the 2010 Census, each of the existing nine districts will have to shed some people. The target population for Congressional districts is 672,454.

Most districts representing Mid-Columbians will have to become more geographically compact because of population growth since 2000.

The target population for each of the state's 49 legislative districts is 137,235 people, give or take a few, once the process is done.

Some people who attended the meeting thought the 16th Legislative District, which includes Walla Walla, Pasco and east Kennewick, should drop Walla Walla.

"We don't associate with them even," said Brenda High, a member of the Franklin County Republicans who ran unsuccessfully for 16th District representative against incumbent Maureen Walsh, R-Walla Walla, in 2010.

"When we want to talk to someone, we go to Sen. (Jerome) Delvin and the 8th District people," High said.

The 8th District covers central and west Kennewick, Richland and the remainder of Benton County.

Patrick McBurney, chairman of the Benton County Republicans, said it made sense to keep Walla Walla and the Tri-Cities politically aligned.

He also wanted to see a redrawn 8th District keep as much of Benton County together as is possible.

"I believe we should focus on the geographical and political boundaries we know exist ... rather than favoring one type of voter over another," McBurney said.

Districts are redrawn after each decennial census to account for population shifts and growth.

The ultimate goal is to have fair and equal boundaries, while also making ensuring districts are geographically contiguous and communities of interest are kept together.

But how to define terms such as "contiguous" and "communities of interest" could be up to the people who show up at the series of 17 public meetings the commission is having around the state, including the one Tuesday in Pasco.

Ultimately, the decision will fall to the five-member commission to draw Congressional and legislative districts that are as equal in population as is practicable.

They will accept suggested maps from citizens until Aug. 15 and release a draft redistricting plan in mid-September.

A final version should come in November, which then gets adopted by the commission and sent to the Legislature by Jan. 1.

The Legislature is not required to approve the plan, but is allowed to make minor amendments, said Bonnie Bunning, the commission's executive director.