Diversity Defines Redrawn 9th Congressional District In Wash.
Today, Washington’s redistricting commission plans to release its final report about the state’s new political maps. One slice of the map reflects an historic development in state politics. That’s the creation of a congressional district where minorities make up the majority of the population. Minority groups in the Puget Sound area hope it’ll give them more representation in Congress. KUOW’s Liz Jones takes us on a tour of this diverse community and brand new voting bloc.
Ok, so this tour is super short. It begins and ends at a shopping plaza in Seattle’s south end, near the Othello light–rail station. My guide is Cherry Cayabyab. She lives just down the street.
Cayabyab: “You’ve got a lot of Vietnamese–owned businesses. You’ve got restaurants, bakeries, cafes. You can see the Cajun Crawfish.”
She describes the Cajun Crawfish as Southern food with a Vietnamese twist.
Cayabyab: “And right across the street you have a Mexican cafe and a Somali cafe.”
This densely packed strip mall radiates the cultural diversity of this area. It’s a microcosm of the state’s new 9th Congressional District, and minorities are clearly the majority here. Store signs beckon in various languages. And the plaza is bustling with Asians, Latinos and East Africans.
Liz Jones: “It looks really busy. The parking lot is pretty much completely full.”
Cayabyab: “This is actually relatively tame.”
Cayabyab is also a community organizer for the nonprofit, United for Fair Representation. It sprang up after the 2010 census. The data showed Washington’s population growth earned it a new congressional seat. And the group wanted the state’s new political map to include a majority–minority district.
This one just barely qualifies, with a minority population of 50.3 percent. Although, that does not necessarily mean that a majority of registered voters are minorities.
As we weave around the busses and light rail in a rainstorm, Cayabyab says even a tiny majority matters. She hopes it’ll tell minority voters here that their turnout can make a difference.
Cayabyab: “There is opportunity to elect somebody that looks like them, and I think that’s exciting. And that gives hope. That gives promise that the issues that we face will be addressed.”
Liz Jones: “So you think this will encourage people to get out and vote more?”
Cayabyab: “Oh definitely.”
Cayabyab says key issues for this community include affordable housing, economic development and comprehensive immigration reform.
The redrawn 9th stretches from Bellevue to northeast Tacoma. It includes South Seattle, Tukwila, Kent and Federal Way. Cayabyab admits this plan for the majority–minority district falls short of the one they wanted.
Cayabyab: “We wanted it to be called the new 10th Congressional District with an open seat. But it got called the 9th Congressional District and with Adam Smith as the incumbent.”
Liz Jones: “Why did you want an open seat?”
Cayabyab: “We wanted to have the opportunity to elect a person of color.”
Cayabyab admits that’s now a longshot, at least for a while. Matt Barreto agrees. He teaches political science at the University of Washington.
Barreto: “So I think it’ll take many years, perhaps until the retirement of Mr. Smith before this becomes a minority seat. This is going to be very difficult for any up–and–comers to challenge a US congressman.”
Adam Smith has represented this solidly Democratic district for 15 years. He’s seeking another term in November. But this time around, he may face a Democratic challenger. Seattle City Councilman Bruce Harrell, who’s half black and half Asian, is entertaining the idea.
For now, however, Barreto considers the 9th a majority–minority district in name only. And he questions whether the redistricting commission made the best call for this community.
Barreto: “If they truly believed in minority representation, they would’ve created a majority–minority district that was open. But the fact that they put it in a seat with an incumbent, and one that’s likely to win, means that the majority–minority district does not really provide an opportunity for those minority voters.”
Back at the shopping plaza, Cayabyab and I duck out of the rain into a Somali cafe. About 20 men are seated around picnic–style tables, shouting comments at each other and at the TV. Owner Ali Hagi is behind the counter.
Jones: “You’re pretty busy in here. It’s full.”
Hagi: “Yes, it’s too busy. They watch the football game, the basketball game, all the games here.”
Near the door, we chat with a customer named Abuu Bakar Ali. To him, it would make a difference to have a person of color represent him Congress.
Bakar Ali: “Because they know our culture, they know what we need, they know our perspective. They can be a role model. Yes, of course.”
Yet others I meet in the plaza say a politician’s skin color doesn’t matter. They’ll vote for the person who works hardest for this community.
Back where we started, community organizer Cherry Cayabyab wraps up our three–block mini tour. Her work ahead is to try to leverage the voting power in this new district. That includes putting pressure on Representative Adam Smith to listen and respond to this community’s needs.
Cayabyab: “He has to fight, you know, to win our support and he has to show us that he’ll represent us fairly and accountably.”
Jones: “When you say fight for your support, that implies to me that he doesn’t have it currently.”
Cayabyab: “Not necessarily, we’ll have to see. Actions speak louder than words.”
Cayabyab suggests Smith will need to spend more time in the diverse neighborhoods of the new 9th, in places like this plaza, and build relationships.