After intense GOP lobbying, board recommends Spokane City Council map with few changes

click to enlarge After intense GOP lobbying, board recommends Spokane City Council map with few changes
Daniel Walters data visualization
The map supported by a bunch of Republican types actually makes things slightly harder for Republicans.
After around two hours of debate and testimony on Tuesday night, the City of Spokane Redistricting Board members settled — some grudgingly — on a clear recommendation: Pick the map that keeps things mostly the same.

Map 1 "Minimal Changes w/ Shared Downtown," designed by board member Jennifer Thomas, shifts part of northeast Spokane's District 1 into downtown Spokane, but otherwise leaves the map alone.

That was the map clearly favored by both the SurveyMonkey results and the vast majority of dozens of members of the public who turned out to speak.

"All of a sudden thanks to the Inlander we get a whole bunch of people interested in what little old us are doing," said Rick Friedlander, the board's chair. "Your comments are all welcome and the process, I think, has been sound."

Last week, the Inlander published a story about another proposed map — Map 2 — that was authored by Council member Zack Zappone, an advisory member of the board. While Zappone argued that the map was the only feasible proposal that would keep all the neighborhood councils together while sharing the downtown space, the Inlander noted it would also give Zappone a small but significant bump to his re-election prospects. (Zappone said that wasn't his intention.)

Zappone was not at Tuesday's meeting, but most of the public commenters offered criticism of Zappone's map.

"I think Map 2 will further divide our community, because it will seem to many of us that this redistricting process is unfair and biased," said Gretchen McDevitt, wife of former U.S. Attorney Jim McDevitt, who sat on the county's redistricting board.

Even before the Inlander flagged the issue, there was an active right-wing campaign to rally opposition to Zappone's map and support for Map 1.
Shift Washington, a right-wing organization that previously hammered Zappone for riding his bike without touching his handlebars, sent out a newsletter claiming that "Zappone has proposed a redistricting plan which ignores neighborhood boundaries, yet benefits his own selfish political ambitions."

Part of that was false — Zappone's map was, in fact, the only map that didn't split up existing neighborhood boundaries. But other complaints — like the idea that the draft map split the Spokane Club in two — were echoed by other commenters.

Shortly after, the Spokane County Republican Party sent out multiple emails warning the city council was "trying to gerrymander Spokane’s Council Districts."

"If Zappone’s map is chosen, it will completely decimate any chance of business-friendly candidates winning, in any of the districts, for at least 10 years," the Spokane GOP wrote in an email to their members. "If we think they do not listen to diverse opinions now, just wait until ALL the Districts are drawn to only elect ultra-liberals."

On Facebook, the GOP put out this image:

click to enlarge After intense GOP lobbying, board recommends Spokane City Council map with few changes (2)
Facebook screenshot

Another Inlander employee told me that she'd been contacted by someone phone-banking to spread the word about the issue.

Jennifer Hicks, a precinct committee officer with the Spokane GOP who made some of those phone calls, told the Inlander she "was just helping a friend," but declined to say who that friend was.

Darin Watkins, government affairs director for the Spokane Association of Realtors — which often pours tremendous sums of money into supporting conservative and moderate candidates locally — says he sent out emails to their membership promoting the meeting as well, encouraging them to attend.

"For us it was about keeping [district boundary changes] as minimalistic as possible," Watkins says. "If there’s anything we’re hearing from voters, there’s voter fatigue about change."

Redistricting Board member Heather Beebe-Stevens suggested that the way that the board gathered community input was flawed.

"I don't think that any of the maps are perfect. And I don't think that our system of getting feedback is perfect," Beebe-Stevens said. "We're assuming someone is able to get off work at 5 and has childcare to make it here."

She noted that the Board wasn't allowed to consider political factors. Ultimately, she agreed that Map 1, which has the most equally distributed population numbers, "is the least bad of them. I don't like it. But I would be in favor of Map 1."

Ironically, for all the conservative enthusiasm for Map 1, the map itself doesn't actually help Republicans very much. While it leaves Northwest Spokane unchanged, it makes Northeast Spokane's District 1 slightly more Democratic, making it harder for conservatives like Jonathan Bingle and Michael Cathcart to get re-elected.

That's despite the fact that Thomas, the map's designer, works as the government affairs director for the Spokane Home Builders Association — a role Cathcart once held.

"I laid aside any political agenda, any bias, any preconceived notions," Thomas said. "I came in here with a commitment and a purpose to serve my community."

Ultimately, the Spokane City Council will have the final say on whether to approve or reject the map. 

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About The Author

Daniel Walters

A lifelong Spokane native, Daniel Walters was a staff reporter for the Inlander from 2009 to 2023. He reported on a wide swath of topics, including business, education, real estate development, land use, and other stories throughout North Idaho and Spokane County.His work investigated deep flaws in the Washington...