LTM Editorial: No more redistricting for the General Assembly
And here we thought redistricting was over. On Inauguration Day 2013 (coinciding with Martin Luther King Day), Republicans in the Virginia Senate took advantage of the absence of one of their Democratic colleagues to vote on a new redistricting plan.
The proposed redistricting – some of it apparently adjusted on the floor of the Virginia Senate during the vote – is expected to buoy several Republican districts by absorbing right-leaning precincts and lumping more left-leaning precincts into one district. We’ll see if this is true in 2016.
This type of district line adjustment is commonly referred to as gerrymandering – an attempt to provide disproportionate influence to one group by either concentrating them or spreading them out among electoral districts.
Historically (and according to some under the Virginia Constitution), redistricting is only held once per 10 years. And while the 20-20 split in the state Senate has led to some close votes, this move has led to the harshest criticism.
Reportedly, the maneuver was questioned even by Gov. Bob McDonnell, which would make sense given the ambitious legislative package he has submitted for his final year in office. The chances of any major legislation passing with bipartisan support suddenly shrunk, and this is support he’ll need for any substantial movement on transportation or education reform.
It was a bad move. First, it unfairly tarnishes the entire Virginia Republican Party as having a “cheat to win” mentality. Basically, it means that when worried about the outcome, Virginia Republicans will simply change the rules to suit them.
The most dangerous part of this type of uncivil politicking – especially when orchestrated on a day designed for national unity – is the feeling it engenders among Democrats. What’s good for the goose is good for the gander. With a 20-20 split in the state Senate, there is no telling the machinations it is likely to inspire. This is how an august body slowly begins to lose its credibility and integrity.
But more importantly, this public relations nightmare may not have an upside. Prior rulings indicate that the federal courts may not allow the change. If so, then any potential bipartisanship lost during this incident gained them nothing.
And whatever the impact this move has on the ability of the two parties to work together or on the General Assembly’s reputation of rising above politics in a gentlemanly way, one thing is certain – we’ve once again been provided with an example of why the legislature shouldn’t be the ones drawing up the voting districts. Given the chance, even the best elected official begins to look at how the district lines impact them rather than how it impacts the community.
Redistricting in Virginia happens every 10 years and is now controlled by the majority party in each of the two chambers of the General Assembly with approval by the governor. In 2011, there were some egregious examples of gerrymandering on both sides. The recommendation of McDonnell’s optional bipartisan commission was dismissed out of hand.
As we noted at the time, it’s time for Virginia to join those other states who redistrict though a bipartisan committee … because these districts should be set to group by community and joint interests – not because it preserves an incumbent.
There will certainly be those who claim that a nonpartisan committee is a contradiction in terms and cannot exist. Perhaps, but at the very least an outside committee provides a level playing field and eliminates the fox from actually designing the chicken coop.