John Braun: Slam the door on Democrats and their anti-Hispanic grab for more power


With candidate filing week now behind us, the 2024 election season is in full swing.

Democrat leaders in our state are no doubt looking ahead to the August primary and November general election more eagerly than usual. Having worked to get a Democrat-friendly federal judge to redraw more than a quarter of Washington’s 49 legislative districts, they likely see this as the year when the Republican lock on legislative positions in central Washington will finally end.

The best response to this judicial gerrymander is simple: Send the Democrats packing in August and November. Refuse to reward them for trampling on our state constitution and using our state’s Hispanic residents as pawns in a shameless attempt to gain more political power.

Let’s recap how this situation was created, then look at how to deal with it.

Neither of the two legislative districts in the Yakima Valley has elected a Democrat to the state Senate since the 1940s. Rather than offering candidates who would support local values instead of extremist priorities, Democrat political operatives conspired to game the system instead.

Their target was the process our state uses to redraw electoral districts every 10 years following the national census. The process was put into Washington’s constitution by the voters in 1983, with bipartisan legislative backing, and is intended to prevent the “gerrymandering” that gives one political party an unfair advantage.

The scheme surfaced in 2021. That’s when the two Democrat appointees and two Republican appointees on our state’s voter-created, bipartisan Redistricting Commission approved a new map of legislative districts.

The map included a “majority-minority” district in central Washington. As of this year, 52% of its voting-age citizens were Hispanic.

Partisan interest groups from California and Washington, D.C., worked through local Democrat proxies to sue, claiming the majority-minority district wasn’t Hispanic enough.  In fact, Senate Democrats managed to throw $75,000 in taxpayer funds to UCLA professor Matt Barreto, who headed the California group.

According to his website, Barreto is a “Latino pundit” and closely aligned with the Biden White House and national Democrat campaign efforts. So Washington taxpayers unknowingly paid a Democratic operative who was working to help Washington Democrats get a more Democratic redistricting map.

Their lawsuit argued Hispanic voters were being denied “an equal opportunity to elect candidates of their choice,” in violation of the federal Voting Rights Act (VRA).

It didn’t matter that in November 2022, the voters of the majority-minority district elected Nikki Torres of Pasco as their state senator, by a 2-to-1 margin over a white, Democratic woman from Yakima.

Senator Torres became the first Latina senator from a district east of the Cascades, but her election also continued the Republicans’ winning streak. The Democrats continued their game.

Democratic Attorney General Bob Ferguson did an abysmal job of “defending” the state. He falsely claimed that the Redistricting Commission had unintentionally violated the VRA, and capitulated to the Democratic plaintiffs to give Democrats more power in our legislature. 

I and other Republican legislators wanted to reconvene the commission so it could rework the map and bring it into compliance with the VRA — but the Democratic leaders in the Senate and House said no at every opportunity. 

In other words, the Democrats who could and should have intervened didn’t, knowing that keeping the matter away from the redistricting commission would instead open the door for a federal judge to get involved.

Democrats filed their case in the U.S. District Court in Seattle and Judge Robert Lasnik, a Clinton appointee, was assigned to it.

In late March, several months after declaring the commission’s 2021 map to be in violation of the Voting Rights Act, he picked a new map from a batch presented by those who had sued: Remedial Map 3B.

The judge’s actions altered 13 legislative districts across 12 counties — including some in southwest Washington. He passed up maps that would have been far less disruptive.

Under the Lasnik map, Senator Curtis King of Yakima and his two House seatmates no longer resided in the district they served. Senator Torres and Senator Brad Hawkins of Wenatchee were put in the same predicament in their respective districts.

The one thing more outrageous than the effort to oust the first Latina senator east of the mountains from her district and push her away from the Yakima Valley’s core population of Hispanic residents is this: The Lasnik map reduces, rather than increases, the percentage of Hispanic residents in the state’s lone majority-minority district.

That’s right. Democrat operatives sued on the grounds that the district wasn’t Hispanic enough, and when asked to offer a remedy, they submitted a map that makes it less Hispanic — down to 51%.

When the Senate state-government committee met May 7, its Republican members pointed out that hypocrisy.

“So we addressed the inequity by making it less Hispanic,” said Senator Phil Fortunato of Auburn. Democrats on the committee had no reply.

At the same time, the political slant of the redrawn majority-minority district swung from being “+3.5%” Republican to a “+14.4” Democrat.

We know Judge Lasnik chose to make the district overwhelmingly Democratic because he asserted that Democrats were “Latino-preferred.” In doing so he ignored polling that showed Hispanics already prefer Republicans at a 40% rate — a rate that’s increasing and is even higher east of the Cascades.

Republicans understand Hispanics in our state are a swing population, and not in the pocket of any political party. In that sense the Lasnik decision is not simply a “partisan gerrymander.” It also seems anti-Hispanic.

While the federal court’s decision is still being appealed, the redrawn lines of those 13 legislative districts are set for the upcoming primary and election.

The voters of Washington created the bipartisan redistricting process that the Democrats have undermined. And no one is in a better position than the voters to hand the Democrats the consequences they deserve.

There are already many good reasons to turn out for the August primary and the November general election. Here’s another.

The voters can’t hold Judge Lasnik accountable for his wrong-headed ruling, but they can certainly do something about those guilty of orchestrating the ruling.

Think of the message it would send if all of the Democrat candidates in the 13 legislative districts redrawn by the court ruling were to be defeated at the polls.

An analysis recently showed that 40% of the Hispanic residents of our state chose a Republican ballot in our  presidential primary this year and that the Chinatown International District may now be the most politically conservative area in Seattle.

I can believe both are true. Democrats began losing touch with rural Washington voters decades ago, and the same thing is happening now with other groups whose support they have long taken for granted.

Instead of putting in the work to listen and connect with Hispanics in central Washington, Democrats are trying to use them to force more liberal Seattle solutions onto all people in rural areas.

They found a way to bring gerrymandering into our state even though our constitution offers protections against gerrymandering.

The best response to this Democratic scheme is to vote against the type of candidates who support their agenda. Support candidates who will prioritize lower taxes, public safety and excellence in our education system.

That’s the kind of policy which will actually benefit Hispanics and all Washingtonians.


Sen. John Braun of Centralia serves the 20th Legislative District, which spans parts of four counties from Yelm to Vancouver. He became Senate Republican leader in 2020.