Washington state redistricting commission chair resigns

SEATTLE (AP) — The nonpartisan chair of Washington state’s redistricting commission has resigned, lashing out at Democratic leaders for refusing to defend the commission-drawn legislative maps from a legal challenge.

Sarah Augustine announced her resignation Monday following the panel’s two Democratic commissioners voting against intervening in a federal lawsuit alleging the maps violate the federal Voting Rights Act, The Seattle Times reported.

The lawsuit contends the final commission legislative map illegally dilutes the power of Latino voters in Central Washington by splitting them among multiple districts.

The lawsuit named three Democratic state officials as defendants: Secretary of State Steve Hobbs, state House Speaker Laurie Jinkins and state Senate Majority Leader Andy Billig. All have refused to defend the maps, according to the commission.

“By failing to defend the redistricting plans agreed to by consensus, state authorities have chosen to undermine the process and dismiss the compromises taken in the public interest,” Augustine, the commission’s nonvoting chair, said in a prepared statement.

Her comments came after Democratic commissioners Brady Walkinshaw and April Sims voted no and Republican commissioners Joe Fain and Paul Graves voted yes on whether the panel should intervene as a defendant in the lawsuit.

Sims said she remained proud of the compromise maps agreed to by the bipartisan panel but could not oppose the lawsuit brought on behalf of Latino voters in Central Washington.

“What I am hearing from the community in Yakima compels me to bring their voices into this room and center the solutions that they’re asking for,” she said.

Augustine’s resignation is an ugly end to the work of the commission, which flouted public meeting laws as its members tried to meet a Nov. 15 legal deadline to agree on final congressional and legislative maps for the next decade.

After spending much of a five-hour public meeting out of sight, commissioners emerged, hastily voting on a supposed final agreement without sharing it publicly.

The state Supreme Court accepted the maps, declining to exercise its authority to redraw them despite the blown deadline and the commission’s secrecy.

Last month, the commission admitted to violations of the Open Public Meetings Act and agreed to pay fines and legal costs of more than $137,000 to settle two lawsuits by government transparency watchdogs. That included personal $500 fines for each of the commissioners, with the rest paid by tax dollars.