By Randy Bracht
The Center Square 

Democrats oppose special session

Voting map may be drawn by court


Last updated 9/26/2023 at 10:29am

PASCO – Democratic leaders say they are willing to let a federal court redraw the disputed boundaries of the 15th Legislative District to better reflect its Latino population.

The district includes Othello, Pasco, Grandview, Sunnyside and other communities surrounding the Hanford Nuclear reservation, as well as the western panhandle of Adams County.

Last month, in Soto Palmer v. Hobbs, U.S. District Court Judge Robert Lasnik concluded legislative maps drawn in 2021 by the Washington State Redistricting Commission for the Yakima Valley “cracked” the Latino vote, diminishing the opportunity to elect Latino candidates.

The judge set Jan. 8 as the deadline to determine whether a reconvened redistricting commission is able provide a redrawn map to the state Legislature for approval by Feb. 7.

If not, said Lasnik, the court will adopt a new map for 2024 elections.

Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee has said he won’t call a special session for legislators to consider reconvening the redistricting commission.

“We are committed to the goals of the (federal) Voting Rights Act,” Majority Leaders Sen. Andy Billig of Spokane and Rep. Laurie Jinkins of Federal Way said, noting they don’t support a special session. “The plaintiffs made their case in court, and the U.S. District Court for Western Washington found the existing maps do not meet the standard set by the VRA. Now, voters in the Yakima Valley are entitled to fair and timely legislative maps.”

But in separate comments, Senate Republican Leader John Braun pushed for a special legislative session to reconvene the redistricting commission, which would require a two-thirds majority vote in both the House and Senate.

“If majority leadership prevents the Legislature from reconvening the Redistricting Commission, it will be another effort on their part to abdicate our duty and authority,” Braun said.

Despite Lasnik ruling that the 15th District boundary was insufficient to satisfy the Voting Rights Act of 1965, Braun noted the district’s population is more than 51% Latino and represented Rep. Sen. Nikki Torres, R-Pasco.

The Legislature does not start its regular session until January, posssibly too late for consideration of a redistricting proposal.

Either Inslee or lawmakers themselves can call for a special session.

Braun believes the Republican caucus would “wholeheartedly” support a special session.

The district includes parts of Adams, Benton, Franklin, Grant and Yakima counties within the adjacent 13th, 14th and 15th legislative districts. Along with Sen. Torres, the 15th District is represented by two Republican House members: Reps. Bruce Chandler of Granger and Bryan Sandlin of Zillah.

Jose Trevino, a defendant intervenor in the case, has filed an appeal of Lasnik’s decision to the 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals.

Trevino is joined by fellow appellants Ismael Campos and 13th District state Rep. Alex Ybarra, R-Quincy, who contend the redistricting commission focused too much on race. There was also a separate and parallel lawsuit involving plaintiff Benancio Garcia III, a congressional candidate in 2022 who contends Legislative District 15 is an illegal racial gerrymander.


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