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MX News Update 2024


Republicans in Washington are grappling with the reality of a redrawn political map

Republican state lawmakers renewed their grievances Tuesday with a court-ordered redistricting that has reshaped Washington’s political landscape in a way that threatens to be unfavorable to the Grand Old Party in this year’s elections.

During a committee work session, three Republican senators said they did not believe that the redrawn 14th Legislative District, which is at the center of the controversy, has fewer voting-age Latinos than before and has shifted from reliably Republican to highly favorable to the Democrats.

And they noted that the solution approved by a federal judge in March pushed three of their Senate colleagues into new districts. No one called it a partisan gerrymander, but left little doubt that they believe so.

“So the redistricting took out all the Republican legislators and then increased the Democratic percentage,” Sen. Perry Dozier, R-Waitsburg, said at the State Government and Elections Committee meeting.

Comments from Dozier and Republican Sens. Jeff Wilson of Longview and Phil Fortunato of Auburn reflect Republicans’ ongoing frustration over the results of a lawsuit filed by Latino voters in 2022 over the 15th Legislative District in the Yakima Valley.

Five Republican lawmakers — three senators and two representatives — found themselves in new districts, while no Democrats were displaced. Democrats want to increase their majorities – now 58-40 in the House of Representatives and 29-20 in the Senate – with better prospects through redistricting.

This outlook is the outcome of the lawsuit, which argued that the map, drawn up by the bipartisan Washington State Redistricting Commission, violated the federal Voting Rights Act by hindering the ability of Latino voters to participate equally in elections.

U.S. District Court Judge Robert Lasnik agreed in 2023 and ordered its redrawing. Two months ago he approved a new political map. As part of the solution, he renumbered the 15th District as the 14th so that legislative positions, including the Senate seat, will be on the agenda in this year’s presidential elections.

Plaintiffs argued that the Latino community will have a better chance of electing a candidate of their choice during these years because Latino voter turnout is then historically higher.

Whether the legal outcome is a victory for the Latino community will become clearer in the coming months, said Rep. Sharlett Mena, D-Tacoma, a member of the House State Government and Tribal Relations Committee, who participated in the work session. “We’ll have to see what the turnout is and what the results are,” she said in an interview.

“It’s not necessarily about having a Latino candidate. It’s about having a candidate that Latinos want in that space,” said Mena, who grew up in East Pasco and has relatives who live in the Tri-Cities area. “I care a lot about the new 14th. I want this to go well.”

Political consequences

Lasnik’s decision redrew the boundaries for 13 legislative districts in 12 counties in central and southwestern Washington and the Puget Sound region. More than 500,000 voters are now in new districts, state elections director Stuart Holmes told the commission. That’s about 10% of the state’s registered voters.

Five Republican lawmakers found themselves in new districts. Two incumbents — Sen. Brad Hawkins of Wenatchee and Rep. Gina Mosbrucker of Goldendale — opted not to run again. Senator Curtis, King of Yakima, passed through town so he could. Rep. Chris Corry of Yakima decided to seek an open seat in his new district.

And Sen. Nikki Torres, R-Pasco, overwhelmingly elected in the 15th District in 2022, now lives in the 16th District, which Dozier represents. Torres, the Senate’s only Latina Republican, can complete her term that runs through 2026 even though she won’t live within the 15th’s borders.

Lasnik’s ruling also opened the door for four new legislative candidates — three Democrats and one Republican, all of whom are Latino — in the new 14th Legislative District.

And a Republican former lawmaker is hoping to return to the state House because the new maps return him to the 15th District from which he was removed by the state redistricting commission in 2021.

The Washington State Standard is a nonprofit, nonpartisan news outlet providing original reporting, analysis and commentary on Washington State government and politics. We strive to keep you informed about Washington’s most pressing issues, the decisions elected leaders make, how they spend taxpayer money and who influences public policy. We are part of States Newsroom, the nation’s largest state-focused nonprofit news organization.