Comments differ on redistricting amendment

Published 8:09 pm Tuesday, January 8, 2019

By Diana McFarland

Managing editor

A question about the OneVirginia2021 initiative received different responses from two state representatives who serve Isle of Wight County.

Sen. Louise Lucas, D-18th, said she was “absolutely” in favor of the effort, which seeks to establish an independent redistricting commission through an amendment to the Virginia Constitution.

Subscribe to our free email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

“I think this will give voters the opportunity to impact the districts they live in without the stranglehold of gerrymandering,” said Lucas prior to the beginning of the Richard J. Holland Pre-Legislative Breakfast held Jan. 3 in Smithfield. 

Del. Emily Brewer, R-64th, said she did not want to comment because she needs to read more about the effort being spearheaded by the bipartisan nonprofit organization, The OneVirginia2021 Foundation. {mprestriction ids=”1,2,3,4,5,6″}

Brewer said it doesn’t matter anyway, and pointed to the state’s redistricting efforts being caught up in “legal battles,” with the U.S. Supreme Court, which is weighing in specifically on Virginia’s case of racial gerrymandering. 

The Supreme Court case does not impact the need for, or the ability to, reform the redistricting process in Virginia, said Brian Cannon, executive director of OneVirginia2021.

“If anything, those cases (to include those in Maryland and North Carolina) underscore why we need it more than ever — the old way isn’t working. You’ve got Democrats in Maryland specifically targeting citizens because they’re Republican in that state, and vice versa in North Carolina. In both places, they’re openly admitting to it. That’s got to stop. We’d like to see this issue not perpetually end up in the courts with special masters redrawing lines. Rather, we’d like to see a transparent, independent commission with clear rules that keep our communities together in place. That will slow down this arms race of litigation over these districts,” said Cannon.

Cannon reported Monday that a bill was submitted to begin the process, Senate Joint Resolution 274, introduced by Sen. Emmett W. Hanger Jr., R-24th, and Mamie E. Locke, D-2nd. The bill has been referred to the Committee on Privileges and Elections. 

The clock is ticking on this initiative since it takes two years to pass an amendment to the Virginia Constitution and redistricting is required following the completion of the 2020 U.S. Census. Without the amendment, the upcoming redistricting will be accomplished in the method used previously. That is, the political party that controls the General Assembly does the redistricting, historically to protect its power base.

The General Assembly is narrowly controlled by Republicans and that could change this fall when delegates and senators are up for re-election. Those legislators who opt for a continuation of party-controlled redistricting will be banking on their party emerging as the winner this fall.

If the proposed amendment is adopted, it will provide for creation of a bipartisan commission, which will redistrict the state. 

The commission’s selection would begin with the four Republican and Democratic leaders in both chambers of the General Assembly selecting a nominating committee made up of four retired circuit court judges. Those four judges, in turn, would select a fifth judge for the nominating committee.

The judges would nominate 22 citizens for the 10 member redistricting committee, from an application process open to all registered voters in Virginia. 

The nominees would include five Republicans, five Democrats and 12 independents — with the criteria defined by the General Assembly.

The 22 nominees would be reduced to 10 individuals by each of the four General Assembly leaders striking one partisan of the opposite party and two independents. 

The final commission would be composed of three Republicans, three Democrats and four independents.  

Those 10 individuals would then take on the task of drawing district boundary lines following a set series of criteria, according to OneVirginia2021.  

The criteria would prioritize preserving local boundaries as much as possible, and if not possible, follow natural boundaries, according to OneVirginia2021. 

Left out of the equation is the ability to redraw districts to favor a political party or state or federal representatives, nor deny racial or ethnic minorities an opportunity to elect representatives of their choice, according to OneVirgnia2021. 

The effort would take two years, as an amendment to the Virginia Constitution takes two sets of votes by the General Assembly, beginning with this session, and again in 2020. In between the two votes is a November general election where all members are up for reelection. 

If the amendment passes, it goes on the November 2020 ballot as a referendum for the voters to consider. 

Redistricting involves not only state senators and delegates, but congressional districts as well. 

Isle of Wight County’s other three legislators, Sen. Tommy Norment, R-3rd, Sen. John Cosgrove, R-14th and Del. Roslyn Tyler, D-75th, did not attend the pre-legislative breakfast. 

Requests for comment to their Richmond offices were not received to by press time.  {/mprestriction}