In yet another reminder of the racial divide that exists between North Seattle and South Seattle, a plan is being floated to create a new congressional district that would start at Seattle's Union Street—right smack in the middle of the current boundaries of the 7th Congressional District—and run southward, drawing in a wide swath of land in which racial minority populations are currently the majority.
This proposal is being pushed by the United for Fair Representation coalition, which sees an opportunity in the new congressional district that Washington State will receive in 2012 as a result of our state's growing population. George Cheung, the group's spokesman, said the goal of creating this so-called majority minority district is "to actually have a champion in our congressional delegation who's going to talk about issues connected to communities of color."
That, Cheung said, would be "incredibly powerful."
It's also an incredibly sensitive topic. So sensitive, in fact, that it's gotten three Washington congressmen from different parties to do something unusual: stay silent on the same subject. None of the congressmen who would have to cede territory to this new district—which would run all the way down to Federal Way—will comment on the matter. Democrat Jim McDermott (who has represented the 7th District for 22 years), Democrat Adam Smith, and Republican Dave Reichert all stayed mum in response to inquiries from The Stranger.
The implication is what they're probably hiding from. Cheung is suggesting that McDermott, Smith, and Reichert aren't currently acting as champions for "issues connected to communities of color."
Elaborating on this, Cheung said that as the current district boundary lines are drawn, McDermott, Smith, and Reichert are "not necessarily accountable to communities of color, because communities of color make up such a small percentage of [their] districts." By creating a new majority minority district, someone—Washington's new 10th representative in Congress—would have to be, Cheung argues.
His criticisms of the three congressmen are made all the more stinging by the fact that the 2010 US Census—which led to Washington getting this new not-yet-drawn congressional district—shows parts of the three men's districts to now be incredibly diverse. So diverse, in fact, that if you start at Union Street in McDermott's district and run through South Seattle, over what the 2010 Census found to be the most diverse zip code in the United States (Columbia City's 98118), and then onward, over the city of Seattle's southern border and into the 8th Congressional District (Reichert's) and the 9th Congressional District (Smith's)—if you do all that, and in the process sweep in places like Burien, Tukwila, Renton, SeaTac, Normandy Park, Des Moines, Kent, Federal Way, White Center, Boulevard Park, and Bryn Mawr-Skyway, then you have created a "majority minority" district.
The population breakdown of this area would be 12 percent African American, 19 percent Asian, 14 percent Latino, 1 percent Native American, 5 percent "other" (we're now at 51 percent minority), and 49 percent white.
If this all sounds like a bunch of race-based gerrymandering, well, it would be—and that wouldn't be unheard of. Scores of districts all over the United States were specifically drawn to increase minority representation in Congress, and the tactic has been tested repeatedly at the United States Supreme Court, drawing both approval and disapproval from the court depending on the particular circumstances.
Which is not to say that the odds of Washington State getting a majority minority district—much less fighting about it all the way up to the Supreme Court—are very high. The United for Fair Representation coalition is just one of many groups currently bending the ear of the Washington State Redistricting Commission. It's this commission that will come up with the new congressional district's boundaries and submit them to the state legislature for approval in January 2012.
The (all white) members of the Washington State Redistricting Commission: former Republican senator Slade Gorton, former Seattle deputy mayor Tim Ceis, former state house chief clerk Dean Foster, and state representative Tom Huff.
In this lineup, one can see another reason the three congressmen might be keeping quiet: Perhaps they doubt the commission will take this plan for a majority minority district seriously.