15 April 2011

Back to the VA Redistricting Drawing Board

Governor Bob McDonnell (R-VA) vetoed the Virginia Redistricting legislation which was required after the 2010 Census. Virginia is one of the states which has a divided decision-making process, as the Governorship and State House of Delegates is controlled by Republicans and the State Senate is dominated by Democrats.  Attempts to avoid acrimony when redrawing the district lines were stillborn as the Governor’s so called independent non-partisan redistricting commission offered a liberal hack job which eliminated three Republicans’ Congressional districts, this in a Commonwealth that did not lose any representation in the 2010 Census and elected a Republican governor with an 18% margin.

The Virginia State Senate redistricting plan was committed to creating a second minority seat in Virginia.  This was accomplished by making Rep. Bobby Scott (D-VA 3rd) into a 42% African American plurality district and sharing the black voters with a proposed district extending to Richmond.  It is an effort that Rep. Scott claims to have supported for 20 years.  It also strengthens Democrat power in three State Senate districts, which would help the Democrats retain their narrow majority in the Commonwealth’s upper chamber.

The Virginia Senate plan would separate  Rep. J. Randy Forbes (R-VA 4th) in Chesapeake from his district that he is currently representing. It also shrank Rep. Frank Wolf’s  (R-VA 10th) district, due to the population gains in Northern Virginia, but it also may make Republicans retaining the seat more challenging when the 72 year old lawmaker retires. Virginia Senate Majority Leader Dick Saslaw (D-VA 35th, Alexandria) insists that Democrats ceded to every Republican demand except having two state Senators based in Republican oriented Virginia Beach.

 The Republican led Virginia House drew up a plan authored by Virginia House Majority Whip Rep. Bill Janis (R-VA 35th, Glen Allen)  guided by the advice from incumbents to reflect the results from the 2010 elections that sent eight Republicans and three Democrats to Washington.  Republican House used a crack and pack methodology to increase the VA-3rd into a minority led district from 53% to 57%.  This move strengthens Republican power on the Peninsula while eliminating a Democrat district in Norfolk and displacing a few Democrats, including Virginia House Minority Leader Ward Armstrong (D-VA 10th, Martinsville).

The Virginia General Assembly Redistricting Bill HB 5001 was approved on a bipartisan 86-8 vote.  The Virginia Senate bill passed on a party line 22-18 vote majority.

Gov. McDonnell vetoed the redistricting indicating that the House-Senate redistricting legislation did not receive enough bi-partisan support.  Additionally, the Governor indicated that the plan did not have a Voters Right Act pre-clearance which could be costly and not ensured.   Moreover, McDonnell explained that the redistricting bill did not preserve communities of interest, ensure compact districts or maintain populations of the districts.

Lawmakers are scheduled to return to Richmond on April 25th.  Since the Senate bill received no Republican support, it will not garner enough votes to override the veto. Virginia Senate Majority Leader Saslaw has vowed not to change a jot or tittle and pass the Senate bill again. If that is the case, then the redistricting will be thrown to the courts.  Unfortunately, with the August 23rd primary pending, this could throw the election into chaos.

Politics can be as unappetizing as making sausage but it is better than having fleebagging lawmakers who stall the normal messy political process or by blithely enlisting the men in black to make political choices.

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