All five countywide port commissioners are from Seattle. Is that fair?

One way we measure the health of our representative democracy is if citizens feel someone is advocating for them and their interests. People want to know that someone from their area, who experiences daily life like they do, represents them to a government body.

From that perspective, some are questioning how representative the Port of Seattle commission is. Even though all of King County is part of the port district, all five commissioners reside in Seattle. Can an entirely Seattle-centric port commission adequately represent the entire county?

Rep. Drew Stokesbary (R-Auburn) is wondering just that. He wrote this week, “The airport, trucks hauling loads to/from the port, and even a possible new Sonics arena affect all of us here in South King County, but who is bringing our voice to the Port Commission?”

District-based elections for port?
Stokesbary is the lone Republican sponsor of HB 1999, which would require district-based elections for the Seattle port commission. The bill would expand the commission from five seats to nine, and set district boundaries that are the same as county council districts.

It’s an intriguing idea. Under this plan, every part of the county would be represented at the port. Seattle would still have a lot of representation in that body, it just wouldn’t have all of it.

After all, King County is a big place. With over 2.1 million people, it has a larger population than 15 states. It’s pretty tough to effectively campaign to that many voters and to adequately represent their interests once elected.

Under the current at-large format, port commissioners represent more people than state legislators, county councilmembers, and members of Congress. The current format also makes it difficult to win without a Seattle base – which is probably how we ended up with all five commissioners living within a 5-mile radius of downtown Seattle.

The issues the port handles, and the assets it manages, affect all of us. We’re all impacted by trade issues and the airport, and we all want to say on things like a new sports arena.

Today, port decisions are being made through an entirely Seattle-centric lens. Is that right? At the very least, it doesn’t seem very representative. Maybe there is something to this district elections idea.
-Rob McKenna

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Rob McKenna
Rob served two terms as Washington’s Attorney General, from 2005 to 2013. He successfully argued three cases before the U.S. Supreme Court and negotiated three of the largest consumer financial protection settlements in national history, all involving mortgage lending and servicing. He is a recognized leader in the development of consumer protections on the internet, in data protection and privacy regulation.