(The Center Square) – Senate Republican Leader John Braun and House Republican Deputy Leader Mike Steele on Wednesday released a statement calling for a special session of the Legislature to reconvene the Washington State Redistricting Commission to deal with the disputed boundaries of the 15th Legislative District.
On Aug. 10, U.S. District Court Judge Robert Lasnik concluded in the case of Soto Palmer v. Hobbs that legislative maps drawn in 2021 by the Washington State Redistricting Commission for the Yakima Valley “cracked” – or diluted – the Latino vote.
There was also a separate and parallel lawsuit involving plaintiff Benancio Garcia III, a congressional candidate in 2022 who contended that Legislative District 15 is an example of illegal racial gerrymandering. In a 2-1 panel vote on Sept. 8, Lasnik and fellow federal Judge David Estudillo dismissed the case, saying it was moot because the map would be redrawn under the Soto Palmer v. Hobbs case.
Gov. Jay Inslee and the majority Democratic legislative leadership have said they have no intention of calling a special session to consider reconvening the redistricting commission.
“Our state’s fair and bipartisan redistricting process, approved by the voters to remove partisanship from the redistricting process, is considered one of the best in the nation,” the statement from Braun, R-Centralia, and Steele, R-Chelan, reads in part. “These maps should be created by the Redistricting Commission, with direct input from the public and in accordance with the state constitution.”
Neither Republican leader was optimistic about the chances a special session would actually be called.
“I’m not optimistic that Democratic leadership will agree to doing what’s right by calling a special session to reconvene the Redistricting Commission,” Braun told The Center Square in an email. “They seem set on taking what they see as the quickest and easiest path instead of following the correct process for revising the district maps. It’s unfortunate because that approach isn’t very democratic.”
Braun’s colleague in the House echoed those thoughts.
“Despite the urgency and gravity of this issue, which warrants immediate legislative attention, it’s highly unlikely the majority party will call a special session,” Steel emailed The Center Square. “Based on the conversations I’ve been having, they would rather let the court determine the outcome.”
A redistricting commission is appointed every 10 years in Washington to redraw legislative and congressional district boundaries based on the most recent census data. The Legislature appoints four commissioners – two Democrats and two Republicans – who then appoint a fifth, non-voting, non-partisan chair.