Port commission split on redistricting

The panel decided not to lobby for any of the four options being considered by a state commission.

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WALLA WALLA -- When it comes to proposed changes to Walla Walla's congressional district map, Port of Walla Walla commissioners are steering clear of drawing any lines.

The three commissioners have decided not to lobby for any one of the four options up for consideration by the Washington State Redistricting Commission. Port officials have not reached their own consensus on whether Walla Walla County should remain in the 5th Congressional District, switch to the 4th Congressional District or be split between the two.

What's more, commissioners say they've heard there's a behind-the-scenes battle brewing between representatives of those districts over the community.

Port Commission President Mike Fredrickson said Rep. Doc Hastings, R-Pasco, has indicated he wants Walla Walla in his district. The area has been represented in the 5th District by Rep. Cathy McMorris-Rodgers, R-Spokane, whom Fredrickson said is rumored to want to hang onto her territory.

The district boundaries will determine who will represent Walla Walla on a federal level. This is particularly important, Port officials said last week, when it comes to financial support for the continued expansion of U.S. Highway 12 and funding for the Jonathan M. Wainwright Memorial Veterans Affairs Medical Center.

The state redistricting commission will choose the new boundaries in early November. The boundaries are redrawn every 10 years after the census to reflect moving populations across the state.

At the end of last year the U.S. Census Bureau announced Washington will receive a 10th seat in Congress. The new district will take effect during the 2012 election cycle.

As that district is created, Walla Walla may face a drastic change. Three of the four proposals from the redistricting commission would involve moving all or a portion of Walla Walla County into the 4th Congressional District. The options are:

Leave most of Walla Walla County in the 5th District, following the lines of the Walla Walla, College Place, Waitsburg and Prescott school districts. Those living in the Touchet and Burbank school districts would be in the 4th.

Leave Walla Walla County in the 5th District, similar to its current configuration.

Move all of Walla Walla County to the 4th District in a change that would combine the southern half of Eastern Washington from Yakima to Clarkston in one area.

Move Walla Walla County to the 4th District, but leave Columbia, Garfield and Asotin counties in the 5th District.

Fredrickson said he favors the idea of splitting Walla Walla between two districts. He said representation from two elected officials could double lobbying and funding efforts on behalf of the community.

"I like the split personality," he said.

But Port Executive Director Jim Kuntz and Commissioner Paul Schneidmiller said they worry Walla Walla could get lost if it's combined with bigger communities, especially those that already get a lot of their own attention.

"I want it all in" one district, Schneidmiller said.

Commissioner Ron Dunning said he's agreeable to whatever scenario the redistricting commission chooses.

"I think they'll be good for us either way," he said.

Vicki Hillhouse can be reached at vickihillhouse@wwub.com or 526-8321.

Upcoming meetings

The next redistricting commission meetings are scheduled for Nov. 8 and Dec. 13 in Olympia. For more information, visit redistricting.wa.gov.

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