The General Assembly has been back and forth from Richmond this summer trying to comply with a court order to draw new districts for the House of Delegates. The court believes the current lines, in place since 2011, were drawn with too much emphasis on race. All redistricting is gerrymandering but the court feels that Virginia has too much gerrymandering. How much is too much is the question that will be forever debated.
House Democrats created a silly plan earlier this year that wasn’t “ready for prime time.” Then Del. Rob Bell submitted a good plan that we liked. The biggest difference between the two was Bell’s plan didn’t group any sitting Delegates into the same district while the Democrats’ placed several Republicans into the same district. Coincidence, I’m sure.
But Del. Chris Jones and GOP leadership didn’t love Bell’s plan. So Jones submitted a new one, one that was supposed to have Democrat support. The plan passed the necessary committee on a party line vote and is ready to be brought to the House floor. Speaker Kirk Cox called the General Assembly back to Richmond for a session on Oct 21 to finish things up.
Now we hear that Governor Ralph Northam is promising that he will veto the proposed plan. In a statement, Northam said-
I must unequivocally state that I will veto House Bill 7003 should it reach my desk.
Keep in mind that as a state senator, Northam voted for the current map. Northam’s statement went on to say-
The federal court has contemplated a process by which it, through a nonpartisan special master, will construct a remedial districting plan should legislative efforts fail, and I believe that is the best course of action before us. Virginians deserve fair and constitutional lines in place in time for June 2019 primaries, without further delay.
So even though legislative efforts haven’t failed just yet, Northam is promising to send the problem to a federal court to fix. This isn’t about fairness or the duties of the legislature as detailed by Virginia’s Constitution. This all about hyper-partisanship in hopes Democrats can pick up a few seats in next year’s election to take the majority in the House.
The Governor’s partisanship was rightly called out in a statement from Speaker Cox-
At least the Governor is finally being honest. After weeks of feigning interest, the governor has admitted at last that he wants federal judges appointed by President Obama to draw a redistricting map to deliver a Democratic majority in the House of Delegates.
The last time Democrats failed to do their constitutional duty on redistricting was with congressional lines. A federal court redrew lines that resulted in a Republican congressman no longer being in the district he represented. That district then flipped to being a solid Democrat district that the Ds were able to pick up. Northam is betting on the same thing happening again.
All redistricting is gerrymandering. But when the legislature draws the lines there is an element of accountability as the incumbents must stand before the people and explain why they drew the lines that they created. When a court draws the lines there is no accountability to the people. Court ordered gerrymandering is not the proper way to do this.
Until there is radical, bipartisan redistricting reform the process needs to stay in the hands of the legislature as prescribed by the Constitution. Gov. Northam is wrong to pass on this responsibility, especially before any plan has actually been approved.