Last week’s U.S. Supreme Court ruling regarding gerrymandering of congressional districts raised concerns and questions across the nation.

But in Kittitas County it sparked the question of whether we as a county were gerrymandered.

The initial reaction is no, but the full answer may be more nuanced. This state has an independent redistricting committee that takes the process out of the hands of the politicians. If residents of other states want to avoid only a political party manipulating the district map to maintain power, the advice being given is to pursue citizen initiatives creating independent redistricting committees.

But the committee has representatives from each political party so it is not apolitical.

The 8th Congressional District was reshaped after the 2010 census. Prior to that time, Kittitas County was part of the 4th Congressional District.

The 4th was a solid strip through Central Washington. For Kittitas County there was a commonality of being grouped with other agricultural and rural counties. Also, it was reliably conservative (although Jay Inslee did hold the office for one term).

The new 8th was a different beast, one that crossed the Cascades, including the growth zone of Issaquah and the surrounding area along with Kittitas and Chelan counties.

The question at the time was whether the 8th was created to be a Republican district. For the first 35 years the district was held by a Republican. By adding a more conservative rural section to the district, was the new 8th a way to keep West Side district in the Republican camp?

The argument against that is the district was in response to census data and the need to balance the population of each district.

Even though Republican Rep. Dave Reichert consistently carried the district by healthy margins, the 8th District has voted for the Democratic nominee for president in every election since 1992.

When Reichert opted to not run, the seat drew a competitive crowd of candidates, which resulted in the election of a Democrat, Rep. Kim Schrier.

There is a danger in reading too much into one election cycle. It is possible the 8th may be the antithesis of gerrymandering — a district with the potential to go Republican or Democrat in any given election.

For Kittitas County our place in the political map may be influenced more by our relative sparse population rather than our political ideology.

Just like the 8th District stretches a good distance, our state 13th District covers a vast expanse. In a state with a dense population in one area and a comparatively dispersed population in a larger area, the district maps are going to be a bit funky.

On an even more local level, our county commissioner districts are designed so not all three contain a portion of the city of Ellensburg, but District 2, the Upper County district, goes down to the rural area surrounding Ellensburg.

So, should we feel gerrymandered? Probably not, but chances are some thought was given to political alignment when the congressional boundaries were drawn, they were just not exclusively driven by that motivation.

With the 2020 census coming up we will see how the map shakes out after a decade of serious West Side growth. It’s not outside the realm of the possible that Kittitas County was just renting in the 8th District.


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