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Gerrymandered? 

Democrats say a rising star was taken out by GOP mapmaking.

click to enlarge Washington state Rep. John Ahern
  • Washington state Rep. John Ahern

Marcus Riccelli's isn’t a name you’d recognize. But as a longtime Democratic Party functionary, he has worked behind the scenes as a policy advisor and campaign manager for people whose names you would recognize: U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell, former state Sen. Chris Marr, congressional candidate Don Barbieri.

And Riccelli’s plan this year was to finally make a name for himself by running against state Rep. John Ahern, a Republican, in the 6th Legislative District. Emphasis on “was.”

When the state’s redistricting commission unveiled the new borders for the 6th, Riccelli saw that a fingerling had reached up, absorbed his house and taken him out of the 6th, the district he grew up in.

“The redistricting commission is supposed to draw lines and borders that make sense. What happened doesn’t make sense,” says Riccelli, who is currently the senior policy advisor for Washington state Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown. “I feel like there was an effort to move me into the 3rd District. A strategic effort. … The motivation for that is unclear.”

For the past couple of months, Riccelli had been floating his name in Democratic circles, and among community leaders, for his potential run in the 6th. (Democrats — including Riccelli’s boss Sen. Brown — hold all seats in the 3rd, which is why he won’t run there.)

Matthew Pederson, the chair of the Spokane County Republican Party, says he’d heard Riccelli’s name as a potential opponent to Ahern, but that was about it. He dismisses the idea that Riccelli was intentionally taken out of the district.

“The district lines were draw by a bipartisan team. Two Democrats, two Republicans,” Pederson says. “To say that someone’s been districted out who is not a seated legislator is a bit of a stretch.”

Ahern agrees.

The new boundaries of Washington's 3rd Legislative District are shown in green. The old boundaries are shown in red. The marker indicates the approximate location of Marcus Riccelli's house, which had been in the 6th District before the redistricting.

“This was bipartisan. But not everybody’s going to be happy,” he says. “We lost Wandermere, Whitworth, a couple of good parts of our district. But we gained Medical Lake, Cheney and Fairchild.”

Dean Foster was one of the two people appointed to the redistricting commission by Democrats. He says politics do sometimes influence how political borders are drawn, but not this time.

“I can’t confirm that or deny that,” he says, adding that he had no maps in front of him to refer to. “That does happen, but I can’t help you. It just sort of evolves that way. … There might be candidates all over the place that were in one district and are now in another.”

Sharon Smith, who is heavily involved in the Democratic Party locally and statewide, says she thinks there was “some intention to bring [Riccelli] into the 3rd” District, which lies north of the 6th and covers much of Spokane.

“There were a million other ways you could have gotten other voters into the district,” she says. “And I don’t know anybody else that was going to run in the district” against Ahern.

Smith says she still has hope that Riccelli will figure out a way to take Ahern on, but for now Riccelli’s focused on the legislative session.

“The 6th District deserves better than John Ahern,” he says. “If it’s my time to run … I won’t let a simple line sway me.”

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