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Morning Wire: Q&A with Rep. Paul Harris, Modernizing Redistricting, “Faithless Electors”

Sara Gentzler here, the Wire’s Olympia-based reporter. You might recognize me from the Capitol campus, I’m set up with my laptop in Pritchard or the cafe in the dome most days.

As lawmakers return to their committees after a super-rare snow day and Olympia is covered in a thick, white blanket, it feels like a good time for fresh starts. For me, that means taking a swing at this weekly email.

While everybody’s chatting about the weather, the legislature is nearing its first cutoff. Things are picking up speed, and you’ll see that reflected in some of our coverage below.

If you have feedback for us on our coverage, please hit reply on this email, tweet at me, or email me directly—I’d love to hear your thoughts on how we’re doing and what the Wire’s missing. 

Stay safe and warm out there!

With help from Emily Boerger

1. Modernizing redistricting in Washington State 

By at least one measure, Washington State draws legislative districts in such a way that provides as much partisan advantage to Republicans as does Texas, a state with a long history of gerrymandering. That’s one of the takeaways of our series, “Redistricting Washington State: How the lines are drawn.”  

Emily Boerger has a great piece exploring the legal underpinnings and challenges of gerrymandering across a range of states. I follow that with some data in an article on how the partisan composition of a legislature is impacted by both elections and the way the lines are drawn in a state.

Today, DJ Wilson has a piece that provides five takeaways from this series, one of which includes that the current model is ripe for a legal challenge. Another is that it’s probably time for the legislature to clarify in statutory policy what “no partisan advantage” should mean. He also compares the strategic considerations and the consequences of those from both the 1965 and the 2012 redistricting efforts in a separate article.

2. Q&A: Rep. Paul Harris on Tobacco 21, his vaccine bill, and being a “weird Republican”

Rep. Paul Harris is the lead sponsor on two notable bills so far this session: Tobacco 21, which would raise the age for buying tobacco products to 21; and a bill that would get rid of Washington’s philosophical or personal objection exemption for the MMR vaccine. He’s also the only Republican House member to sign on to a bill that would eliminate the death penalty.

During this lengthy Q&A, we talked about those efforts, the issues that divide the House and his caucus, and the issues he thinks are defining this session. Harris represents Washington’s 17th LD and has held his seat since 2010. He’s serving as House Caucus Chair this session and sits on the Education, Health Care & Wellness, and Rules Committees. 


3. Speaker Chopp sponsors behavioral-health bill

House Speaker Frank Chopp is the lead sponsor on a bill that would allow the University of Washington School of Medicine to start planning for a behavioral health-focused teaching hospital. Chopp has said it’s his first bill in 20 years; I explain the bill here.

Gov. Jay Inslee requested the bill with the goal to build Washington’s behavioral-health workforce and add 150 beds for civil patients as a part of his plan to “transform” Washington’s behavioral health system. Inslee’s proposed capital budget includes a $2 million investment to support the hospital’s predesign.


4. Wire Insider: Shirline Wilson, Washington State Executive Director of Democrats for Education Reform

Shirline Wilson, Washington State Executive Director of Democrats for Education Reform, joined us as a “Wire Insider” at our 2018 Re-Wire Policy Conference to discuss equity in education in post-McCleary Washington State.

“I’d love to see legislators and policymakers go back to the table and really take a look at how we have set up funding formulas, how we think about how to pull resources down to support kids in SPED,” Wilson said. “I know there’s a lot of conversation about levies and where that levy-building capacity comes from, and just really some of the out-of-the-box thinking that legislators will be needing to do around how we make sure that we do right by the districts that maybe didn’t make out as well during the first-round McCleary solution.”


5. Presidential electors: A bill and a Supreme Court case

In January, the Washington Supreme Court held oral arguments in a case with potential national implications for the Electoral College System. In the case, the question presented is whether three of the four electors who refused to vote for Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential election, after having pledged they would vote for her, had the right to do so.

Meanwhile, a Senate bill that would disqualify and replace future electors if they did such a thing was voted out of committee last week. Currently, such “faithless electors” face a $1,000 fine. Sen. Patty Kuderer, the bill’s lead sponsor, referenced the pending court case in her testimony: “Four individuals — well-intentioned, I’m sure — decided, though, for the price of $1,000, to undermine the will of the people. I understand the sentiment. But, quite frankly, the role of the elector is a ministerial task.”