5 Fair & Equal Districts…What Next?

This evening I attended the Whatcom County Citizen’s for Freedom’s (aka The Whatcom Tea Party) general public meeting. The guest speaker was Brett Bonner, former KGMI Talk Show Host, former candidate for Mayor of Bellingham, who currently works for Saturna Capital , a local and nationally renowned investment company. Mr. Bonner recently served on the Whatcom County Redistricting Committee, representing the Republican Party. His presentation included a slide show and information on what led up to and the outcome of the newly created five districts in Whatcom County.

Brett spoke briefly about the people who made up the Redistricting Committee; Brett Bonner and Mark Nelson each represented the Whatcom County Republican Party, and Lisa McShane and Mike Estes each represented the Whatcom County Democrat Party. They (Bonner, Nelson, McShane, and Estes) appointed Dr. Tjalling Ypma (WWU Mathematics Department Chair), as the Districting Master, and Dr. Dale Kinsley as the Districting Committee Chair. He unabashedly praised the contribution of Mark Nelson’s thorough knowledge on the subject, and admitted praise for the hard work and dedication of adversarial opponent, Lisa McShane.

Redistricting committee 2

Bonner’s presentation outlined that the purpose of the committee meetings were to receive a proposal from the Districting Master of how redistricting might be achieved, be acceptable to the Parties, the County, follow the rules of the Whatcom County Charter, and the laws of Washington State. From that point each of the two political party representatives submitted proposed amendments to the original submission from the Districting Master, Dr. Ypma. The Redistricting Committee met a total of nine times, between February 8th, 2016 and April 20th, of 2016. They were required to submit a proposal and vote to approve the new district map proposal for submission to the Council, no later than May 1st, of 2016. All of this was accomplished. Mr. Bonner shared with the audience that the committee meetings were focused on why, or why not, each Party’s proposed amendments were; acceptable to the Party’s, achieved the intent and legal language within the referendum to create five new districts in Whatcom County, and that whenever an agreement could not be achieved between the two Party’s, they would seek advice from the County’s legal counsel, Karen Frakes. The two most important points that they addressed to Ms. Frakes were:

  • If the Redistricting Committee members were unable to find consensus on a redistricting plan, what would happen?
    • The County Council would be the final arbitrators to approve the new district map.
  • Were the districts confined to be what was written in the Transition language of the Referendum?
    • Although Ms. Frakes initially told the committee that they were required to do so, after a meeting was called by the head of the Whatcom County Legal Department, David McEachran, Ms. Frakes rebutted her statement and informed the committee that the transition language allowed for flexibility within the make up of each district.

Much of Mr. Bonner’s presentation focused on how each of the map’s districts differed in past voting patterns; Republican vs. Democrat and conservative vs. progressive.

**Since I did not write down the data provided by Mr. Bonner, please be advised that these are approximations of what I remember.

Mr. Bonner presented that:

  • All of the maps showed a heavily packed District 4, farming community, with approximately 70% – 75% Republican, Independent, or conservative voters.
  • All of the maps showed heavily packed Districts 1 and 2, Bellingham community, with approximately 68% – 72% Democrat, Independent, or progressive voters.
  • All of the maps showed District 3, the shoreline community, with approximately 53% – 54%, Republican, Independent, and conservative voters.
  • Each of the maps proposed by the Districting Master, the Republican committee members, and the Democrat committee members; varied by 2% – 4% to give District 5, the foothills community, a swing to the conservative or progressive voters.

The final outcome of the vote taken by the Redistricting Committee, which did include the Committee Chair, Dr. Dale Kinsley’s vote, was 5 – 0 in favor of the map proposed by the Democrat representatives. Mr. Bonner shared their analysis of how the make up of each of these new districts was comprised by registered voters:

  • District 1 – South Bellingham: approx. 32% Republican – 68% Democrat **
  • District 2 – North Bellingham: approx 33 % Republican – 67% Democrat **
  • District 3 – Shoreline: approx. 54 % Republican – 46% Democrat **
  • District 4 – Farming: approx. 70% Republican – 30% Democrat
  • District 5 – Foothills: approx. 55% Republican – 45% Democrat

Summing up Mr. Bonner’s presentation, he acknowledged that he and Mr. Nelson were pleased with the outcome of the restricted Whatcom County and that with the trend for Counties to remove the At-large district representatives within the State of Washington, it was time for Whatcom County citizen’s to consider doing the same. Mr. Bonner suggested that this could be a joint mission for the Whatcom Tea Party and the Republican Party, but since the Whatcom Tea Party is not a party and does not take sides on issues, but educates the community about issues…this project is best left to the Parties, other political groups, and private individuals, to become a reality.

The Courts have upheld that At-large representatives have given too much influence in concentrated areas and impairs fair representation of minorities.

My question to Brett Bonner and Charlie Crabtree, Whatcom County GOP Chair, who attended the meeting, was if anyone knew which Districts had representation and by whom? Neither Brett or Charlie had an answer to my question. Brett informed the audience that neither he nor any of the other committee members took into consideration where the current councilmembers live. Both Brett and Charlie are concerned that there are likely two or three Whatcom County districts that do not presently have an elected representative and some may not have any until the year 2019. Mr. Bonner did make a suggestion that all of the new districts should be included in the 2017 election, to guarantee a clean slate of voter approved representation for each new district.

With these facts and that knowledge in mind, it should not be a huge endeavor to educate Whatcom County voters that if you want fair and equal representation, the At-large  positions must be removed, and a clean slate of newly elected County Council representatives should be the goal for everyone.

~ Kris Halterman

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