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No Strange Bedfellows On Redistricting
By Stephen J. Rossie

Square2017 imageRICHMOND, VA – Legislative redistricting is perhaps the most brutal and hideous part of lawmaking. Fortunately, it only happens once every 10 years — except when a federal court orders a legislature to do it over again. Then, it absolutely becomes the most brutal and hideous part of lawmaking.

Despite the partisan bickering eight years ago during the last redistricting, when the final House plan came to the floor, Democrats ran for their own individual cover. "Forget the party. I just want to come back next year,” was the attitude as several Democrats crossed over to give the plan a bipartisan vote despite what they previously claimed was a flawed plan.

Now the General Assembly is in special session to redraw House of Delegates districts two years early because a three-judge panel of the U.S. Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled over the summer that the current districts unconstitutionally pack black voters into certain districts, diluting their electoral impact in other districts. That conclusion itself appears about as racial as it gets (assuming how people vote based on race), certainly a lot worse than the current districts themselves, which created several strange bedfellows when a large number of black Democrat legislators voted for them despite their party’s objections.

The court has given lawmakers until October 30 to pass a plan or the court itself will usurp the General Assembly’s legislative authority and draw the districts itself, as it did two years ago when it did the same — and for the same¬ reason — to Virginia’s congressional districts.

House Republicans, the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, asked for a stay of the ruling while it appeals to the U.S. Supreme Court. Typically, such requests are granted, but not this time. Speaking of partisan bodies.

What’s particularly perplexing about the court order is that it mandates that the previous standard of creating majority-minority districts but, apparently, can’t make them too majority-minority, all while not making them partisan even though the court assumes a partisan tilt of black voters.

Add to the mix a near even split in the House and all bets are off. Ironically — and perhaps so much so that it was intentionally overlooked by the court — that the current districts make for a 50-50 electoral jump ball. Isn’t that how they are supposed to be?

Last week, the House Privileges and Elections Committee approved on a 12-10 party line vote a new plan by Delegate Chris Jones (R-Suffolk), the author of the current law. He sought and gained the approval of five Hampton Roads area Democrat delegates: Steve Heretick and Matthew James, both of Portsmouth; Jay Jones of Norfolk, Cliff Hayes of Chesapeake, and Cheryl Turpin of Virginia Beach. But after the Democrats caucused, all five were properly rammed back into the fold.

Enter Governor Ralph Northam, who must sign any final product into law. He said he was disappointed in the "partisan vote to pass the majority’s partisan map.” A veto may very well run out the clock and bring the Fourth Circuit back into play — a very partisan play itself, one that Democrats will be more than happy to run.

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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