The failure of the Washington Redistricting Commission to produce new political maps in a transparent and timely fashion created such a flurry of first-order reporting about the illegality of the process itself that some of the petty power-play stuff fell through the cracks.
But now that forces from the left and the right have filed their lawsuits, now that the commissioners have admitted to violating state transparency laws, and now that I have a little break here between the Legislative season and election season, it seems like a good time to review some of those power plays.
One such allegation resurfaced at a conservative conference in January. In answer to a question posed during an afternoon panel, Commissioner Paul Graves, who House Republicans selected to represent their redistricting interests last year, accused Senate Democratic leadership of deliberately drawing Ingrid Anderson out of an east side Legislative District that she only lost by 57 votes in a 2020 state Senate race against conservative Democratic incumbent Mark Mullet.
Graves described that move as one of the "biggest divisions" between Commissioners Brady Walkinshaw and April Sims, who represented the redistricting interests of the Senate and House Democrats, respectively, and added that negotiations on this issue contributed to "part of why it took us so long to get to our maps," which led to the commissioners blowing their deadline in a chaotic final day of wild backroom negotiations.
In a phone interview, Graves maintained his accusation but softened it a little, saying he learned of the plan "a few days" after the redistricting deadline when Sims told him the Anderson issue "was a little bit of a sticking point."
Senate Democratic leadership roundly denies the accusation.
Neither Sims nor Walkinshaw responded to multiple requests for comment, despite the fact that either one of them — but particularly Sims — could clear up this whole mystery by picking up the phone.
It does not make sense to group Snoqualmie / North Bend with Lake Chelan and Cashmere, this feels like retribution
— Ingrid Anderson (@empoweredRN) November 17, 2021
Anderson herself initially surfaced the issue in a tweet posted a day after the commission approved the new boundaries. In that tweet, she noted that the commissioners drew a line "less than a mile from my house kicking me out of my district and moving me to the 12th" and concluded that "someone is afraid of me running again."
In a statement last week, she said she "believed then and believes now that Senate Democratic leadership was working to see my family home drawn out of the 5th LD." She added that she hasn't yet decided whether to run for office again, but she nevertheless considers the new boundary a "violation of representation of people in my neighborhood" in that they are "cut off from their community." As she wrote in that earlier tweet, "It does not make sense to group Snoqualmie / North Bend with Lake Chelan and Cashmere, this feels like retribution."
These accusations are — as they say — big if true. If true, they would suggest that Senate Dem leadership should shoulder more of the blame for the commissioners blowing their deadline. Plus, using the redistricting process to eliminate a political threat from the left would suggest that the caucus cared more about settling internal battles between progressives and conservatives than about achieving their stated priorities for the party statewide, which is just really tacky.
And it's not like they didn't have any incentive to push to draw her out. Booting Anderson out of the 5th LD arguably protects Mullet from a potential progressive challenger who attracted more than $1 million in labor PAC money to support her campaign. (She could move back into the district if she wanted to run again, but she'd have to endure relocation costs, etc.)
Moreover, reducing the primary threat to Mullet would financially benefit the Senate Democratic Campaign Committee (SDCC) in its effort to maintain a Dem majority in that chamber. After Mullet narrowly won reelection in 2020, State Sen. Jamie Pedersen (D-Seattle), who chairs the SDCC, did not shy away from criticizing the committee's ostensible allies in labor for spending so much money to boot Mullet rather than to help Dems beat Republicans elsewhere. Defending Anderson's challenge forced the committee to spend time and money protecting one of its members from an internal rival, which was time and money it would much rather have spent supporting Dem upstarts in Republican territory.
But just because they had an incentive to do it doesn't mean they did it, and, as I mentioned, Senate Democratic leadership rejects this accusation up and down.
In an email, Sen. Pedersen said he was unaware that Anderson had been moved to another district. He claimed the issue "never came up in any discussion" that he conducted with Commissioner Walkinshaw or members of the mapping team on the Senate Dem side. He added that booting Anderson was not on "any list of priorities" they developed for the process.
"Our top priorities were to create a Voting Rights Act compliant district in the Yakima Valley in which the majority Latino voters could elect the candidate of their choice; to redraw the NW Washington districts (42, 40, and 10) to more fairly reflect the partisan breakdown of that area as a whole (it had been badly gerrymandered in 2010); and to create a more compact 17th district in the Vancouver suburbs," he wrote in an email.
Matt Bridges, the mapmaker for the Senate Dems, also said no one on their side knew where Anderson lived and that the location of her house "had no bearing whatsoever in what we were doing."
They cared most about keeping together "communities of interest" and avoiding unnecessary splits in cities and counties, he said. He then went on for several minutes to point out splits across the map that he found unforgivable and personally vexxing, and that apparently continue to haunt him to this day.
His disdain for such splits flared up again when I pointed him to Anderson's location on the map and said that North Bend and Snoqualmie were not in the same district. He said that was weird, because "one of the last requests" that Senate Dems fielded came from some tribes who wanted Issaquah to be in the same district as the Snoqualmie Valley cities, which include Snoqualmie and North Bend. The fact that North Bend was now excluded from those other two cities contravened the Senate Dem priority to be responsive to community requests.
Bridges also said that Senate Democratic leadership was openly comfortable with the idea of not finding consensus on the maps at all and just letting the Supreme Court redraw them. As Pedersen mentioned in his statement, they believed the last decade's political map gave Republicans an inflated advantage in elections because the former commissioners based it on the party's performance during a red wave year. As a result, Senate Dems figured that any map the Court would draw would both conform to state law and ultimately rebalance the scales.
Moreover, in general, the House-appointed commissioners negotiated the Legislative District maps while the Senate-appointed commissioners negotiated the Congressional District maps, and so Bridges argued that Walkinshaw wouldn't have played much of a role in negotiations over the LD maps.
A review of all text messages and emails sent to and from the commissioners and the chair the week before the vote revealed no mention of Anderson. The 5th Legislative District does show up in a November 13 memo from former state Senator Joe Fain, who Senate Republicans picked to represent their redistricting interests, but only as part of a broader analysis about the potential partisan performance advantage in 12 swing districts. (In that memo, Fain basically argues that the commissioners had finished negotiations on all the stuff the law required [i.e., "drawing compact communities of interest and
considering existing local political boundaries"], and it was now time to only negotiate over which districts to make bluer or redder, though a few staffers who worked on the process tell me it was all partisan advantage talk all the time.)
Adam Bartz, executive director of the SDCC, also insisted that he had no idea where Anderson lived. He argued that they weren’t even taking the locations of their own members into consideration when drawing the maps, and so they certainly weren't thinking about the addresses of their potential opponents.
"In fact," he added, "We used to joke that Mark Mullet would hate the district we drew because it was too Democratic."
Bartz added that creating a district to protect Mullet in a race that's not up until 2024 would be "such a weird thing" to bargain away in a 10-year plan. "If you were to make political trades, that wouldn’t be the one," he said.
Finally, after he was shown where Anderson lived, Bartz noted that Walkinshaw's initial Legislative District map proposal — which represented the chamber's ideal outcome — kept her in the district. Only Graves's initial proposal drew her out. (Graves used to represent the 5th LD in the House.)
Graves said the deal was "not the kind of thing that anybody wrote down or put in an initial map," and again stood by his accusation.
So now here we are. The Senate Democrats flatly deny the accusation and present several strong and persuasive reasons for why they wouldn't have pushed for the commission to move Anderson out of her district. That said, Anderson has been drawn out of her district, and it was done in a way that just barely pushes her out. That said, it could have just been a coincidence.
However, Commissioner Graves is out here at a conservative conference telling people that Senate Dem leadership conspired to protect a conservative Democrat, and he's still standing by it. But, as one of the more active negotiators on the commission, he has an incentive to shift blame for chaos on that final day to the other party.
Commissioner Sims could pick up the phone and call out Graves for lying or bullshitting, and Commissioner Walkinshaw could perhaps do the same, but neither has done so. And so, the mystery of Ingrid Anderson's suspicious redistricting remains as the commission's reputation for transparency continues to decline.