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Speakers: Shift Adams, rest of Walla Walla Counties to 5th Congressional District

Some call for moving Pasco into different legislative district

CHENEY - During a state Redistricting Commission public outreach meeting July 24, speakers overwhelmingly backed changes that would shift two counties east.

With the population shift over the last decade, several people testifying during the hearing called for Adams and Walla Walla counties move out of the 4th Legislative District (Central Washington) and into the 5th Legislative District (Eastern Washington).

"Eastern Washington is not just everything east of the Cascades," Adams County Commissioner Dan Blankenship said during testimony. "If the 5th District needs to gain some folks, I believe Adams County should revert back to the 5th District."

The U.S. Constitution requires reapportionment into districts representing an equal number of citizens every 10 years. For this reapportionment, each congressional district should represent 771,595 citizens. Each legislative district should represent 157,251 citizens.

Adams County is currently in the 4th Congressional District, along with Okanogan, Douglas, Grant, Yakima, Benton, Franklin, Adams and part of Walla Walla counties.

"We have more in common with Whitman, Lincoln and Spokane Counties," Blankenship said.

Those counties are in the 5th District, along with Ferry, Stevens, Pend Oreille, Columbia, Garfield, Asotin and part of Walla Walla Counties.

Blankenship called for keeping the county in a single district, as well.

He found support from Whitman County Commission Chairman Art Swannack.

In testifying, Swannack said moving Adams County into the 5th District while shedding Pasco makes sense.

He called on the congressional district alignment to remain north-south, with the 5th District containing the state's most easterly counties.

"I believe north and south makes sense," he said, noting Whitman County is more closely connected to its neighbors north and south than counties in the Yakima, Wenatchee and Tri-Cities areas.

Pullman resident and WSU employee Sandra Brabb also backed the north-south continuation, while calling for rural communities to remain in the same legislative districts, as well.

Brabb advocated for moving Walla Walla and Adams Counties into the 5th Congressional District, because they are "more like Lincoln and Whitman Counties" than Pasco.

The proposal to keep the two congressional districts divided between Eastern Washington and Central Washington was backed by Pasco Mayor Pro Tempore Blanche Barajas, as long as the Pasco area also falls in the legislative districts representing Kennewick and Richland.

Currently, Pasco falls in the 9th Legislative District, which, other than the much larger city of Pasco, is generally small farm towns and wheat country.

"Our legislators live an hour away," she said of Sen. Mark Schoessler, R-Ritzville, and Reps. Joe Schmick of Colfax and Mary Dye of Pomeroy. "We would ask you to use this opportunity to provide Pasco with more localized state representation that aligns with our community interests."

Barajas said those interests are intertwined with the cities of Kennewick and Richland.

"This is a growing metropolitan area," she said. "But Pasco is excluded..."

Barajas said she didn't have an issue of being in the same legislative district with Walla Walla County, but speakers from that county didn't want to be lumped in with Pasco.

Cathy Schaeffer of Touchet said her community has been negatively impacted by being split between the 4th and 5th Congressional Districts.

"I'd like to see Touchet and all of Walla Walla County reunified in the 5th District," she said.

According to Schaeffer, Walla Walla County is more closely aligned with Whitman, Lincoln, Garfield and even Spokane Counties than it is with Pasco, when it comes to agriculture.

"We are not part of the Tri-Cities," she said, noting her county is "unlike anything in the Columbia Basin."

Those testifying from as far away as Spokane Valley and Liberty Lake agreed.

"Walla Walla and Adams Counties should be brought back into the 5th," Colin Tracy of Spokane Valley said, calling Central and Eastern Washington two very distinct and separate areas.

Liberty Lake Mayor Cris Kaminskas said she supports, Walla Walla County being in the same congressional district as her city.

"And Adams County should also come back home to the 5th," Kaminskas said.

According to the mayor, the 5th Congressional District has closer ties to Idaho than it does communities at the base of the east side of the Cascade Mountains.

"We are split between Eastern and Central Washington. It's not a good thing; it's not a bad thing," she said. "It's just how it plays out."

While most of the testimony focused on the desire to shift Adams and Walla Walla Counties into a different legislative district, some speakers talked about the need to unify "communities of color" in a single legislative district and a single congressional district.

One speaker, Margot Spindola of the Latino Community Fund of Seattle, went so far as to call on commissioners to create a "majority of color" in a single congressional district. She also called to move the entire Colville Tribe into a single legislative district and a single congressional district.

The Colville Reservation currently spans at least three counties, two legislative districts and two congressional districts.

She found a little support from speaker Timothy White, who said he lives on the shore of the Okanogan River in Okanogan County.

White called on commissioners to "un-gerrymander Indian Country."

Other than a few calls to carve out race-based districts, most speakers focused on keeping city areas together and separate from rural areas.

Carolyn Bowdish of Pasco said it's "very frustrating" that her city isn't in the same legislative district as the neighboring cities of Kennewick and Pasco.

The Tri-Cities share a number of similarities and resources, she said.

She also noted that rural roads are up to par for candidates from her area to travel to faraway farm towns.

"Get the district a little more compact would be nice," she said.

To the north, retired nurse Diane Young of East Wenatchee said her community, as well as those of Wenatchee and Leavenworth, are more aligned with Western Washington than with its current legislative and congressional district.

"I am disenfranchised by being part of the district with Yakima and the Tri-Cities," she said of being in the 4th Congressional District.

The Redistricting Commission took public testimony from the 7th Congressional District on Saturday, July 31.

The commission meets next in regular session Aug. 16.

Author Bio

Roger Harnack, Publisher

Author photo

Roger Harnack is the co-owner/publisher of Free Press Publishing. Having grown up Benton City, Roger is an award-winning journalist, photographer, editor and publisher. He's one of only two editorial/commentary writers from Washington state to ever receive the international Golden Quill. Roger is dedicated to the preservation of local media, and the voice it retains for Eastern Washington.


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