What happened this week?
In a surprise move, on Monday Virginia Senate Republicans passed a bill that would revise the 2011 district maps so as to eliminate a Democratic seat in western Virginia and create a black majority district between Petersburg and Danville. The bill passed the chamber 20-19, along strict party lines. Senator Henry Marsh, a civil rights leader, was in Washington D.C. for the inauguration, which gave Republicans the one-vote edge they needed to pass the bill.
The original bill was introduced and passed by the House of Delegates last year, and thus the Senate was able to bring it up without it first being heard by any Committees. Had the measure gone through a Committee, the public would have had the chance comment. The redrawing of the lines was proposed as a technical amendment to the bill. It is now awaiting a vote by the House of Delegates, if it passes that body it will be sent to the Governor's desk. Preliminary reports indicate that the Governor was not aware of the plans to pass this bill, nor is it clear whether or not he supports it.
If enacted, the new districts will go into effect in 2015 and according to the Virginia Public Access Project, will pack Democratic districts while making other districts more friendly for conservative candidates. It is unclear whether or not such an effort is constitutional, as the Virginia Constitution specifies that the legislative body is to redistrict in years ending in 1.
Additional details and reactions from various groups can be found in the links below:
Press Release from the Virginia Redistricting Coalition
Details about the districts affected, from the Virginia Public Access Project
How the redistricting plan could result in lawsuits
House Speaker holds key to redistricting
Most Recent Statement from the Redistricting Coalition:
From the Virginia Redistricting Coalition
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE, January 28, 2013
Lynn Gordon (co-chair) firstname.lastname@example.org
John Stone (co-chair). John.email@example.com
Redistricting Coalition urges Speaker Howell and House to reject Senate’s gerrymandered amendments
RICHMOND, Jan. 28 – The leadership of the non-partisan Virginia Redistricting Coalition called on Speaker Bill Howell and the House of Delegates to reject the Senate’s surprise redistricting amendments to House Bill 259. The amended bill is expected to be before the House on Tuesday, Jan. 29.
“The Senate’s ambush on redistricting creates a dangerous precedent of redistricting anytime either party is in a position of strength and wants to increase its partisan advantage,” said Lynn Gordon, president of the League of Women Voters of Virginia and co-chair of the Virginia Redistricting Coalition. “Speaker Howell and the House should reject that precedent by rejecting the Senate’s changes.”
“The Senate’s s gerrymander amendment to HB 259 validates every stereotypical negative notion that the public holds about members of the legislature -- that they are unethical, that they act primarily in their own self-interest or their party's self-interest, and that all they care about is getting re-elected,” said Coalition co-chair John Stone of the Future of Hampton Roads. “The House can show a better side by voting down the Senate amendments.”
The Coalition also repeated its call for creation of an independent, bipartisan commission to redraw districts for the House of Delegates, state Senate and Virginia’s seats in Congress after the 2020 Census.
The Virginia Redistricting Coalition is a non-partisan, statewide group of organizations and individuals who advocate bipartisan redistricting reform.