Whidbey Island may end up in a state legislative district that unites islands in three counties into one district.
The idea of an all-island District 10, which appears in two of the four maps proposed by the state Redistricting Commission, has divided opinions among officials. It is a crucial swing district and its fate could have significant political consequences.
“No matter what, there is going to be people who are unhappy,” state Sen. Ron Muzzall, R-Oak Harbor, noted. “Welcome to politics.”
The Redistricting Commission is made up of two voting members appointed by the Democrats and two appointed by Republicans. The commission redraws legislative and congressional districts every 10 years in conjunction with the U.S. Census. Each voting member researches and proposes their own maps for public input.
The commission held a hearing on the proposed legislative maps Tuesday and will hold another on the congressional versions Saturday. People can submit written comments until Oct. 22.
The final legislative and congressional maps may not end up looking like any of the proposals. The commission has to negotiate and finalize them by Nov. 15.
The two Democrats, April Sims and Brady Pinero Walkinshaw, proposed combining Whidbey and Camano Islands — which make up Island County — with the many islands that make up San Juan County and Fidalgo Island in Skagit County into a refashioned District 10. The district also includes some mainland Skagit County and Stanwood in Snohomish County.
The two other proposals, by Republicans Joe Fain and Paul Graves, would keep District 10 closer to its current shape, which includes Whidbey and Camano Islands, part of Mount Vernon and larger pieces of the rest of Skagit County and northern Snohomish County.
Langley Councilmember Craig Cyr is a fan of the idea of a district of islands and spoke at the hearing Tuesday. He said it makes sense because these communities have similar priorities.
“We have so much in common,” he said. “We care about ferries and salmon and the health of Puget Sound. It’s our coastal way of life.”
State Rep. Dave Paul, D-Oak Harbor, agreed that it makes sense to unite the coastal communities because of the shared commitment to protecting natural resources and quality of life in the areas. He said he was particularly impressed with the Sims map because she put an emphasis on keeping communities whole.
Yet the biggest concern he’s heard about the current district boundary is that it cuts through Mount Vernon. The hospital and the college, for example, are in different districts. He said it’s important to unite the city.
Muzzall doesn’t like the idea of a district of islands. He said it’s important that districts have a diversity of types of people with different opinions; there should be both people who live on islands along with those who live farther from the water.
People from both parties in the San Juan Islands, which is currently in District 40, have spoken against moving into an all-island district. The problem is that there would be fewer politicians representing districts with ferries, salmon fishing and whales. It’s a concern they share with Muzzall.
“There will be fewer people who care about ferries in Olympia,” he said.
John Amell, chairperson of the 10th Legislative District Democrats, said he initially supported the idea of an island district, but the opposition from the San Juans was persuasive. The 40th District would essentially lose voters who rely on ferries.
There’s also partisan politics to consider.
Both Muzzall and Paul acknowledged that adding the San Juan Islands to the district would make it easier for Democratic candidates to win elections. All of the District 10 legislative contests were nail-biters in the last election.
Dave’s Redistricting tool, which appears on the League of Women Voters website, shows that under Sims’ map the district would lean Democratic by about 55%. The district would still lean left under the Republicans’ two proposed maps, but by less than 2%.
The Democrats’ maps would remove much of north Snohomish County, which voted heavily Republican in the last election, from District 10.
Under the Sims or Walkinshaw maps, two incumbent senators would face each other in the 2024 election, Amell pointed out. Sen. Liz Lovelett, D-Anacortes, would move into District 10 — from the 40th — and compete against Muzzall, if they both ran for reelection.