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No Strange Bedfellows On Redistricting
By Stephen J. Rossie

Square2017 imageDelegate Steve Heretick (D-Portsmouth) probably has had a lifetime of ribbing over his name. Now, the man who occasionally votes with the Republican majority appears to be the most appropriately named member of the House Democrat Caucus — at least to Governor Ralph Northam and other Democrat leaders.

That’s because Heretick had the nerve to stick with Delegate Chris Jones (R-Suffolk) on a federal court ordered interim redistricting plan that several Democrats in the affected areas also originally supported. But when the word came down that the GOP plan did not meet Democrat orthodoxy, the wayward lawmakers, all from Hampton Roads, compliantly yielded to their bosses — except Heretick. Northam immediately retaliated by canceling his appearance at Heretick’s upcoming fundraiser.

That was the signal other Democrats needed to intensify the inquisition. Minority Leader David Toscano (D-Charlottesville) and Black Caucus Leader Lamont Bagby (D-Henrico County), who submitted a competing plan, piled on then isolated Heretick.

The issue came to a head early last week when Northam promised to veto Jones’ bill if it reaches his desk. He claimed it was a partisan plan by Republicans to bolster their one seat majority and said he would prefer that the federal court redraw the map as it has threatened to do if lawmakers and Northam cannot agree on a "constitutional” plan by October 30.

That is an embarrassing submission to another branch of government that has no constitutional authority to draw legislative districts to begin with — except for what it usurps for itself. Northam asserts it’s a matter of fairness — the court agreed with plaintiffs that the current legislative map packs too many black voters into too few districts. The two sides of Ralph Northam — politically mugging Heretick, but groveling to the court.

But Northam is fooling no one and basically admitted he expects the left-leaning Fourth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to reconfigure a Democrat favorable map to gain the majority just in time for the normal redistricting process in two years, where it could ram through a plan to ensure Democrat dominance for years. Or, as some call it, the Marylandification of Virginia.

Heretick, though, isn’t the only Democrat resisting the governor and demonstrating intellectual honesty. If Jones’ bill reaches the Senate after a scheduled October 21 floor vote (it cleared the Privileges and Elections Committee on a 12-10 party line vote) it will be backed by Lionell Spruill (D-Chesapeake), who helped Jones shape the bill. Spruill, who is black, promised to not only vote for the bill, but to vote to override Northam’s veto stating Jones’ plan ensures black districts, while the court’s product most likely will increase Democrat seats at the expense of black members. What price might Spruill pay?

The outbreak of hostility to what Jones and House Speaker Kirk Cox (R-Colonial Heights) thought would be a continuation of bipartisanship with Northam and Democrats after their historic Medicaid expansion deal earlier this year was a rude awakening. They invited Northam’s participation in the process. Instead they got his whip. Cooperation doesn’t mean bipartisanship. Just ask Steve Heretick.

Stephen J. (Steve) Rossie is a Richmond-based public and government relations’ consultant. He has been a General Assembly lobbyist since 2006 and has written about Virginia government since 2007.


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