‘At a loss’: After tough compromises on both sides, Spokane County Redistribution Committee’s stalemate over commissioner terms could mean someone else decides the map’s final limits

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The Republican and Democratic sides of the committee dividing Spokane County into five commissioner districts almost shook hands on a final map Thursday night after both groups made significant concessions.

But a deadlock over whether the district in which outgoing Commissioner Al French lives should have an initial two- or four-year term threatens to make months of meetings and compromises difficult for nothing.

Spokane County has three commissioners who run in district-specific primary elections, but in county-wide general elections.

Holding county-wide general elections allowed Republicans to retain all three commissioner seats for more than a decade, because even though voters in a district vote for a Democratic primary candidate, the Republican tilt county overall ensures that the GOP candidates triumph overall.

But in 2022, the county grows to five commissioners, each of whom will represent just one district. This change will almost certainly see at least one Democrat winning a commissioner seat.

It’s the job of the redistribution committee to divide the county into five pieces, and that’s a high stake because how the lines are drawn will likely determine the ratio of Republican-Democratic commissioners.

Republicans argued that, given that the county’s voters are roughly 55% Republicans and 45% Democrats, there should be three red commissioner districts and two blue districts. Republicans should control the majority of the commission, they said.

Democrats argued that the 55-45 percent voter history means that a fair card would create two blue districts, two red districts, and one swing district.

Today, after months of difficult meetings and compromises, the two Republicans and the two Democrats on the redistribution committee are on the eve of a deal.

The final provisional redistribution map divides most of Spokane into two long, slender neighborhoods – one covering the eastern part of the city and the other covering most of the western part. Based on the results of past elections, these districts would likely elect Democratic commissioners.

One district would cover most of the northern half of the county – that one would elect a Republican. Another covers the southeastern third of the county – that district would also likely vote for a Republican.

The fifth arrondissement is a swing district.

It covers the southwestern part of the county and all the communities of West Plains. It also includes a significant amount of the western edge of Spokane and much of southern Spokane. According to davesredistricting.org, the free website the committee now uses to draw the map, Republicans would have a 5 point advantage in this district.

After the committee tentatively agreed on the two reds and two blues proposal, they had to find a way to stagger the terms of the commissioners. It was then that they came to a dead end.

Since voters will elect all five commissioners at a time in 2022, the committee must determine which commissioners will serve a two-year term initially and which will serve a four-year term from the start. The mismatches count towards the initial elections next year, as the five commissioners will eventually serve four-year terms.

Jim McDevitt, one of the two members of the Republican committee, said the Southwest District – the swing district that leans towards Republican and associates the Western Plains towns with parts of Spokane – must be one of the districts that begin with a four-year term.

“I just think it’s fair,” McDevitt said. “We gave a lot.

McDevitt said he and Robin Ball, the other Republican committee member, had made significant concessions in order to come up with a final redistribution map.

Accepting a 5-point swing district is actually an unfair advantage for Democrats, given that about 55% of voters in the county are Republicans, McDevitt said. He argued that since Republicans are ready to accept this swing district, the swing district should have an initial four-year term.

Natasha Hill, one of the two Democrats on the committee, said there was no valid argument as to why the swing district must be a four-year term.

“It looks like protection in place,” Hill said.

Although no committee member mentioned him by name, Spokane County Commissioner Al French lives in the swing neighborhood.

McDevitt said he disagreed with Hill’s assertion that giving the Swing District a four-year term would be protection in place.

“I’m not doing this for a particular commissioner,” McDevitt said. “I’m just doing this on a what’s right is right principle. We have caved in to a five-point gap, which isn’t fair to the county, so in return for that, I want a four-year term there. “

Hill said she had accepted a four-year term for the swing district if, in return, McDevitt and Ball were willing to reduce the Republican advantage in the district to less than 5 points.

The committee meets again on Friday with the aim of finding a final compromise. But they are running out of time.

A majority of the four members of the voting committee must agree on a final card and staggered terms of office, by October 23 so that the Spokane County auditor can formalize the card.

If they fail to come to an agreement, the redistribution decision will pass to a state-level committee, which is also bipartisan. The four members of the committee underlined their willingness to reach an agreement at the local level.

Brian McClatchey, the other Democrat on the committee, said he would genuinely hate the committee to come so close to reaching a deal only to fail. He used a football analogy to describe the situation: the committee is at the 1-yard line and just needs to bring the football into the end zone.

“I am lost,” McClatchey said. “We’ve been spending all this time and doing all this great work and we’re just going to let it slip away?” Are we now going to let someone else make that decision for us? This is how it goes, and it’s really disappointing. I don’t know what else to say.


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