Big issue, small crowd for redistricting forum

The commission's major task will be to create a new congressional district.

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Bonnie Bunning, executive director of the Washington State Redistricting Commission, outlines the history and work of the commission during a public forum Wednesday. Seated at table are, from left, Genevieve O'Sullivan, outreach coordinator; commission members Tom Huff and Tim Ceis; Lura Powell, commission chairwoman, and commission members Slade Gorton and Dean Foster. (July 13, 2011)

WALLA WALLA -- A big issue drew a relatively small crowd Wednesday night to Walla Walla Community College.

A forum on redrawing the state's voting districts brought about 40 people to meet with the Washington State Redistricting Commission. The meeting by the five-member group was one of the last in a series to take public comment on setting new boundaries to equalize populations in congressional and legislative districts.

Along with redrawing boundaries, another major task for commissioners will be creation of a new congressional district. Because of population growth, Washington is slated to gain another seat in Congress and the new district will have to be formed by reapportioning the populations in the state's current nine congressional districts to form the new one.

Five speakers addressed the commissioners during the public comment period, one of whom was Walla Walla County Auditor Karen Martin who urged the group to "please be cognizant" of the counties' voting precinct and school district boundaries.

"Try to keep the splits to a minimum," she urged.

The issue of split districts also concerned Vince Stroops, an Asotin County resident. "I've experienced the splitting of districts," he told commissioners. "Our folks have asked that you maintain our county in one legislative district."

Another speaker, Ariel Ruiz, noted that the state has had a very large increase in its Latino population and asked commissioners how they intended to make sure minority populations are represented, not only at the local but also at the state level.

Lura Powell, commission chairwoman, answered that no decisions have been made yet because "at this time we are in the listening phase. But we are listening, very definitely"

Yet another speaker questioned how the new congressional district will be drawn up. Commissioner Tim Ceis said how that will be done is still to be decided. "For tonight, we can't tell you with any certainty how we're going to land on that question," he said.

Commissioner Slade Gorton also commented, "There's going to be at least one (congressional) district that crosses the 'Cascade curtain.'"

"Somehow or another we're going to have to find space for 677,000 people to form a new district," he said.

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