Questions and answers: Sarah Augustine, president of the redistribution commission
Sarah Augustine was chosen to chair the Washington State Redistribution Commission in January. She brings her extensive experience as the Executive Director of the Yakima and Kittitas County Dispute Resolution Center. She has also taught as a social scientist at Heritage University, Central Washington University, and Goshen College. In addition, she co-founded the Suriname Indigenous Health Fund.
Augustine was chosen to chair by the four voting members of the Constituency Commission: April Sims (nominated by the Democratic House caucus), Paul Graves (nominated by the Republican House caucus), Brady Piñero Walkinshaw (nominated by the Democratic Senate caucus) and Joe Fain (Senate Republican caucus appointee).
The Morning Wire: Keeping you up to date with Washington State Politics, Politics, and People.
Aaron Kunkler: As president, you employ shuttle diplomacy and group decision-making strategies. I was hoping you could explain these approaches?
President Sarah Augustine: As a non-voting chair, I really see my role as managing the process and helping the voting commissioners get through it.
Shuttle diplomacy is where there is substantial disagreement between the parties, and the negotiator goes back and forth between the parties to try to identify an outcome that will work for both. This is often used when there is a deep conflict and the parties are not face to face.
Group decision making has more to do with building consensus early in the process, where you try to build shared norms and values and shared strategies for reaching consensus. I have certainly used these strategies from day one. We identified the values at the start of the Commission.
This Commission is really committed to fairness, transparency, giving everyone a chance to participate and follow the status and come to a consensus on the mapping strategy before the November 15th deadline. , and to negotiate in good faith. Much of the negotiation that is to take place on a slicing commission has yet to take place due to the lateness of the data.
AK: So Census Bureau data is overdue due to the COVID-19 pandemic, what impact is this having on the work of the Commission?
HER : We are supposed to receive the data by April 15th. This year, the census will provide us with data in mid-August. Usually what happens is that the Commission receives this data in mid-April, creates draft maps, presents it to the public and receives comments. The Commission receives comments first this time, and the public is able to identify its interest. So I think the audience actually has a bigger role than in the past.
AK: How will the Commission define “no partisan advantage? Traditionally, that meant creating a 50-50 map, but Washington state as a whole leans blue. How will the Commission tackle the reality of the composition of voters, without putting voting groups at a disadvantage?
HER : It is difficult for me to answer this question today without data, because we have a Commission of four members and at least three of them have to agree on definitive maps. It is the commissioners who, in fine, will express their values through the outlines of the maps they draw.
AK: How do you plan to draw the 8th Congressional District, since in the past it was a reliable Republican district that is now owned by a Democrat? Will it be drawn as a Republican, Democratic or Swing district? What about the 1st Congressional District?
HER : It is too early to tell. I think that’s a very relevant question, and I know a lot of people in the audience will ask it as well. One thing I foresee is to see a wide variety of interests as map projects are drawn up among the commissioners and then we will work to come to an agreement.
One thing I will say is that even if the commissioners approach the process with an idea of their interests, until you start to map out, it is difficult to know what your priorities are. You might have a general idea, but until you draw cards, it’s hard to say, “Yes, I care about these 10 things, but these are the top two. ”
AK: What are the main considerations that you think of as the Commission moves forward?
HER : My main concerns so far have been to provide access to the public, so that they can actually participate in the process as fully as possible to create access. Because for me it is a very important part of our democratic process. So, although the redistribution occurs as a result of appointments made, it will have a huge impact on the democratic process for the next 10 years.
AK: What are the most common comments you’ve heard from people when raising public awareness?
HER : There have been at all levels, and others which vary by location. I will say that all of the comments we have received usually have counter comments.
In the 4th and 5th arrondissements, one thing we’ve heard a lot is asking for the arrondissements to be drawn vertically rather than horizontally, just keeping the communities of interest together in a more compact way.
There is certainly a demand to keep the communities of interest together. I think I hear this in every region, and of course these are defined differently in every region.
In the 8th arrondissement, I heard people say that we really needed a line through the Cascades, and it’s too big a neighborhood, and it shouldn’t cross the Cascades because it’s too much. different. And I’ve heard other constituents say that we have to keep it through the Cascades because that’s how supply chains work if you look at it from a trade perspective.
One statewide comment I’ve heard is to have competitive districts. I have also heard a number of comments asking commissioners not to use the interests of their caucuses or their parties as the primary mechanism for determining their ridings.
Another wish that I have heard is that Native American communities of interest are not divided, but that they remain united. Mainly from the Yakama and Colville tribes, but I’ve heard this statewide.
AK: In addition to your work with the Dispute Resolution Center, you have also worked extensively and defended the rights of indigenous peoples. How does this experience fit into your role as chairman of the cutting committee?
HER : Working with Indigenous Peoples has been the experience that has given me the ability to initiate a conversation in areas where there is an imbalance of power.
We are the first Commission to draft a tribal consultation policy, which has not been the case in the past. Along with the tribal consultation policy, we also organized two education sessions.
The first was held through the Governor’s Office of Indian Affairs to discuss the legal obligation of the Commission, and the second was with three tribal chiefs representing their tribes, speaking about the process by which Native American tribes identify their interest. .
I am really proud of this process and I am optimistic that the process that we have put in place will continue beyond this cutting commission. It’s really up to the four voting commissioners how they’re going to react to the consultation process in the redistribution process.
AK: Related to the previous question, are there any issues with the current districts, in particular regarding the equitable representation of Black, Indigenous and Colored (BIPOC) communities?
HER : This is a comment that has spread over many different geographic areas, which is to provide BIPOC communities of interest, so that they are recognized. We have received training on the Voting Rights Act, and I continue to foster a process so that we can negotiate intelligently with a full understanding of the law.
I think the Voting Rights Act is important, and our residents of Washington State have expressed how important it is. Following this, we are working to ensure that the Commission will have all the tools at its disposal to take its decisions in accordance with it.
AK: Is there anything else you would like to talk about, have thought about, or would like to tell readers?
HER : The last thing I really think about is how important it is for people to come to our public awareness sessions, or provide feedback through the various mechanisms to do so. We have for the first time a mapping tool available on our website, so it is possible for people to provide maps.
This allows them to draw a community of interest, they could draw a whole map and submit it to the Commission.
I see the commissioners moved and influenced by this testimony, and I really hope people are ready to participate.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Your support matters.
Public service journalism is more important today than ever. If you get anything from our coverage, please consider donating to support our work. Thanks for reading our tips.