Dems have veered off the track

Published 2:54 am Wednesday, February 26, 2020

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Two decades in the political wilderness appear to have taught the Virginia Democratic Party very little about the much-touted “Virginia way” of managing the public’s business.

Newly-elected House of Delegates Speaker Eileen Filler-Corn, apparently acquiescing to pressure from some Democratic House partisans, is sitting on a Constitutional Amendment that would, for the first time in Virginia history, make a serious effort to end the gerrymandering of state and national legislative districts following this year’s U.S. Census. 

The amendment, which passed both legislative houses a year ago with rare bipartisan support, would create a largely independent commission to oversee the redistricting process every 10 years. In order to become a part of Virginia’s Constitution, the amendment must be adopted again by this session of the General Assembly and then be approved by a majority of Virginia voters during November’s general election.

Virginia’s current “spoils” system, in which the political party currently in power in Richmond completely controls redistricting promotes massive gerrymandering, in which legislators select the people who will re-elect them or their successors. Modern computerized population modeling has taken that system to levels unheard of 30 years ago and voters are placed where their votes either benefit the party in power or effectively neuter the party out of power. It is, quite simply, a system in which elected officials choose their voters rather than the other way around.

The spoils system was used by Republicans a decade ago to create gerrymandered House, Senate and Congressional District maps that favored their party. Democrats struggled as the minority party for the better part of the past decade.

It took statewide anger over Donald Trump as well as a backlog of issues that Republicans refused to address created a backlog of voter anger and a new legislative majority despite the gerrymandered districts.

Creating a redistricting commission would reduce the influence the politicians have in the process beginning next year. As a result, there is little doubt that if the amendment were to be approved by the Assembly, it would then be approved by the Virginia voters it is intended to benefit.

The constitutional change was promoted by a bipartisan group of Democrats and Republicans, most of whom are past Virginia political leaders. Under the banner of OneVirginia2021, the group lobbied the Assembly last year to accept a Constitutional Amendment that was aimed at a broader reform than the final product. Partisans in the Assembly whittled down the reform effort, but the amendment that emerged, and was approved by both houses, was a giant step forward.

The State Senate, now in Democratic control, approved the amendment again this year, setting the stage for it to go to the voters.

The root of the holdup appears to be opposition from some Democratic legislators who fear their seats might no longer be safe if a bipartisan commission gets to redraw lines. Among the opponents are members of the Legislative Black Caucus, who represent “safe” seats created by Republicans a decade ago, apparently with the goal of concentrating, and thus isolating, black voters.

There is still time for Speaker Filler-Corn to allow a vote on the redistricting amendment, and she absolutely should, and if the amendment is allowed to die, voters should remember who was responsible for killing it.

Closer home

Wanting to retain political power is a game as old as politics itself, and that drive is alive and well today.

The political theatre now playing out in Richmond has roots in the same attitude that makes Isle of Wight supervisors reluctant to create a seven-district system here.

Some — often a majority — of supervisors talk every 10 years of the desirability of increasing the number of county Election Districts from five to seven. Then, once the Census is complete, those in power seem to have an epiphany that maybe five districts isn’t so bad after all.

What they are really thinking, but will never say, is that it’s more prestigious to be one of five votes than one of seven.

Isle of Wight should revisit the seven-district issue and pave the way for changing it next year when the next redistricting takes place.