During a financially brutal decade when the overall U.S. population grew at just 9.7 percent—the slowest rate since the Great Depression—Washington State zoomed ahead, increasing in population by 14.1 percent since 2000, according to U.S. Census figures released on December 21. As a result, this state is gaining a 10th seat in the U.S. House of Representatives, which adds to its clout in D.C. and will give our state a larger share of various federal funding pies. It also means Washington will get an additional vote in the electoral college, making our blue stronghold a bit more influential in the upcoming 2012 presidential race.
For politicians like Governor Chris Gregoire, the news created a welcome break from talking about budget cuts in Olympia and high unemployment. She put down the tears (Gregoire literally cried when announcing her most recent proposed budget) and picked up the exclamation points, saying in a statement: "This is great news for Washington State!" Her office credits Washington's exceptional population growth to steady "in-migration" (particularly by people from California).
Nationally, the reshuffling of the 435 U.S. House seats continued a decades-long trend of more power going to growing Southern and Western states at the expense of shrinking Northeastern and Midwestern states. Another continued trend: It's mostly conservative states that are benefiting from this realignment—with Washington as a notable exception.
The immediate question on the minds of this state's politicos: Where will our new district be located?
The answer has actually been clear for some time. (See "Swiping a Seat," May 27.) Though the precise boundaries of the new district will be chosen by a bipartisan redistricting commission next year, those who spend time studying census tracts and population trends say that the new district will be located in the south Puget Sound area, with Olympia as its population base.
Here's why: Every district in Washington needs to have roughly equal population, but growth like we've seen in this state doesn't distribute evenly. As a result, two of our congressional districts—the 8th on the east side of Lake Washington and the 3rd in southwest Washington—are now seriously overstuffed. They need to lose people, the new 10th District needs people, and so the obvious thing to do is combine the conservative southern portion of the 8th (places like Eatonville and Enumclaw) with the liberal northern portion of the 3rd (places like Olympia and Tumwater).
How the new district will swing is anyone's guess. That's the point of a redistricting commission that's widely seen as scrupulously fair. It's made up of two Republicans, two Democrats, and a fifth member they collectively select as chair. Democrats have already put forward Tim "The Shark" Ceis, a former deputy to Seattle mayor Greg Nickels, and Dean Foster, a former chief of staff to Governor Booth Gardner. Republicans have yet to announce their picks, which are not due until January.