About a year ago a small group convened to investigate the possibility of revitalizing the issue of redistricting. They believe that the in-state legislative districts belong to the citizens of the Commonwealth; not to any legislator, political party, or special interest. They are fighting for an independent commission on redistricting.
The core issue that underlies the dysfunction, gridlock, and disrespect in Richmond is the current redistricting process where the Party in power, Democratic or Republican, goes behind closed doors, chooses its own criteria, and draws maps where they actually choose their voters rather than allowing citizens to choose their elected officials. It is the deliberate manipulation of district lines for political power. As a result, we live the fifth most gerrymandered state in the Union.
"Look at the last General Election. The difference separating Ed Gillespie and Senator Warner was less than one percentage point. We arguably live in a purple state. But the closest Congressional District in the state was 16 points. There is no doubt to the outcomes. At the local level that means there is a disincentive for state legislators to debate ideas to find solutions and work together on the issues." - former Delegate Shannon Valentine
81 seats in the House of Delegates are completely safe; the remaining 19 are considered somewhat competitive but rarely feature an opposing major party candidate. There might be 10 races where there is a doubt about the outcome and maybe two seats change out each election.
59 localities in the House districts are divided. 46 of 40 in the state Senate are divided meaning they are divided more than once. Culpepper residents, for instance, are represented by three different Senators. In Lynchburg there are 72,000 households and there are four different ballots required.
Since the February 2014 launch of One Virginia 2021; Virginians for Fair Redistricting the group has built an organization with a foundation and a public policy council. They are committed to being multi-partisan. 40% of Virginians consider themselves independent. There is a member of the Tea Party Executive Committee on the policy council. All of them know what is at stake with redistricting. Shannon Valentine is one of many disciples crisscrossing the state encouraging redistricting reform.
9th House of Delegates District (Franklin, Henry, Patrick Counties): The 9th had been at the center of Warner's crossover support in 2008, and featured a lively fight by Ward Armstrong after Republicans targeted him in their gerrymandering. The result in 2015? Mark Warner received 36% of the vote, just marginally above Obama's 34% in 2012.
12th House of Delegates District (Montgomery and Giles Counties, Radford City): Warner received 52% of the vote here, higher than Obama's 50% but behind Kaine's 54%. This is a unique district, the influence of Virginia Tech makes it very different than other Southwest districts. It also remained one of the best districts for Libertarian candidate Robert Sarvis.
6th House of Delegates District (Wythe, Carroll, Smyth Counties): Warner's 34% of the vote is behind Democrat McGrady's 37% from his 2013 delegates race, which somehow House Democrats convinced themselves was in the bag. About the same as Tim Kaine's 34% in 2012, but not an impressive showing based on prior Warner claims about Southwest popularity.
14th (Danville City; Pittsylvania and Henry Counties) & 16th (Pittsylvania and Henry Counties; Martinsville City) House of Delegates Districts: Warner received 48% of the vote in the Danville based 14th, marginally better than expected given his near defeat statewide. His 43% in the 16th was similar; better than normal Democrats, but only by a few points.
The dust has settled over the Commonwealth after election day 2014, and Mark Warner will survive to serve out another six years in the Senate ... assuming he stays that long. But there's no end to campaigns in Virginia, which because of our odd-year election cycle hosts heated elections every calendar year. For instance, with newly elected Congresswoman Barbara Comstock, there will soon be a special election for the 34th House of Delegates district. Other special elections will be held in the 4th district (Southwest Virginia, to replace newly elected State Senator Ben Chafin) and the 63rd district (Petersburg, to replace newly elected State Senator Rosalyn Dance) -- but don't expect any surprises there. Here's a preview of what to look forward to in Virginia politics.
34th House of Delegates Special Election Let's give a brief history of the 34th in the last few election cycles. In 2007, Republican incumbent Vince Callahan retired and the open seat was won in a good Democratic year by Margi Vanderhye. Margi had defeated Rip Sullivan in the Democratic primary (Rip is finally making his way to Richmond from the 48th District). I wonder if Rip's pleased that he didn't end up in the 34th, as in 2009 a Republican tsunami swept out Vanderhye by 422 votes.
On the tenth day of Christmas, the Commonwealth of Virginia gave to me...Independent Redistricting, the long awaited for, much hoped for, yet ever-elusive good government reform that will reconnect politicians with voters, end polarization, and put Virginia back on track.
Well, no. If you want to really reconnect politicians with voters, you need to expand the number of districts so there are fewer people per district. End polarization? Political scientists have found little to no evidence that gerrymandering is driving polarization; you'll have to tackle housing preferences and the individual sorting of voters to do that. Independent redistricting will not even solve all the challenges and obstacles of the Virginia Democratic Party, as the first diary showed that there are many Democratic-leaning seats that the state party is not winning at this time.
So why talk about redistricting reform?
Because unlike campaign finance reform or expanding the size of the General Assembly, independent redistricting, or at least something more partisan-neutral, may be closer to reality than you think.
A phantom of darkness suddenly appears, gliding ominously over the ground toward you. Shrouded in the blackest cloak, its head and face are entirely concealed. One skeletal hand stretches out toward your, a boney finger directed behind you. From beneath the hood, you can feel the gaze of two ghostly eyes directing you to turn around. Doing so, you feel transported ...
Don't forget to take the poll at the end on your least favorite part of the Republican gerrymander!
On the first day of Christmas, the Commonwealth of Virginia gave to me ...
A Republican gerrymander in the House of Delegates that is the excuse for everything that goes wrong?
It may seem as exciting as a lump of coal, but the Republican gerrymander in the House of Delegates gets a lot of attention from thankful Virginia Democrats. Why? Because these district lines have become the perfect excuse for the terrible, horrible, no good, very bad performance of House Democrats in 2013.
Manage to pick up only one seat, on net, in the House of Delegates? No worries, blame the Republican gerrymander!
A total of 14 Barack Obama-won delegate districts still held by Republicans, and 16 won by Tim Kaine? Mumble mumble, gerrymandering ...
Terry McAuliffe won 11 delegate districts held by Republican Delegates, and Mark Herring still won 9, but .. Look over there, it's a gerrymander! Run for your lives!
It's time again for Richmond's favorite reality show, WORST BILL EVER! Excited Republican state Delegates and Senators are lining up today to try to pass the weirdest, dumbest, most cynical or just plain revolting legislation. Make sure to vote in the poll at the end of this post for the bill you think deserves the prize.
This round's contenders include:
- Del. Bob Marshall's "Funny Money" bill (HJ 590) -- Sideshow Bob is the Rocky Balboa of freaky legislation, and he never fails to disappoint. This worthy contender, to study whether Virginia should print its own currency, is one for the ages -- I encourage you to read it in full, while enjoying such lines as "WHEREAS, many widely recognized experts predict the inevitable destruction of the Federal Reserve System's currency through hyperinflation in the foreseeable future..." Needless to say, this bill has been approved in subcommittee.
- Del. Marshall's "Cold, Dead Hands" bill (HB 2340), which would prohibit state employees from helping to enforce new Federal gun laws. Whaditellya? Like Michael Jordan, Sideshow Bob never just takes one shot at the basket. Of course, this bill is too mild for our friends at the Virginia Gun Owners Coalition, who point out that it fails to include a provision to arrest Federal officials who themselves try to enforce Federal laws. Well, good point, but Rome wasn't brutally massacred in a day. This bill, needless to say, has been reported out of committee.
David Wasserman's national House popular vote data now shows Democrats got significantly more votes than Republicans - a lead of 49.15% to 48.03% for a margin of 1.362 million votes. It was gerrymandering - not the will of the people - that gave Republicans a 33-seat majority. How did it look here in Virginia?
Popular votes cast in Virginia U.S. House races for ...
Democrats: 1,806,050 (49%)
Republicans: 1,876,699 (51%)
U.S. House seats won by ...
Democrats: 3 (27%)
Republicans: 8 (73%)
At ThinkProgress.org, Iam Millhiser estimates Democrats would have to win the national popular vote in the House by 7.25% to win a majority of House seats. With 2006 district lines, roughly that same national margin gave Democrats a 31-seat majority - but with 2014's gerrymandering, it would barely give Democrats control of the chamber. And with more safe Republican districts come more extreme Tea Party members - Republicans know they face just as big a threat in the primary as they do in the general election.
This is a problem that can only be solved on the national level. It does us no good if only some states go to nonpartisan redistricting - then power accumulates with the parties that control the gerrymandered states and you're just rewarding the bad actors.
(Great diary, VERY helpful - thank you! - promoted by lowkell)
Lowell already brought to our attention the good news that the courts handed the Republicans a defeat in the first round of what may prove to be a long legal fight over redistricting in Virginia. I am no legal scholar, but I was excited by the news that the judge dismissed the Republican argument that "shall" doesn't really mean "shall" and found that the group of Virginia citizens had standing for the lawsuit to move forward. But Governor McDonnell is moving forward with the same incumbent protection plan that the House Republicans (with a few unfortunate Democratic allies) pushed through last year in 2011. With redistricting still a big question mark moving forward, just months away from the November election, I wanted to take some time to sort through the entire mess. Where we've been, where we are, and where we're going.
Where We've Been Going back over a decade ago, Virginia Republicans in 2001 had the "privilege" of controlling redistricting for the first time in the modern era. They leveraged this advantage into pressuring Virgil Goode, already a Democrat-In-Name-Only who had voted to impeach President Clinton, to officially leave the party and begin to caucus with the GOP. They also worked to shore up newly elected Congressman Randy Forbes in the 4th, who had won a special election by a very close margin.
Below, I've calculated the partisan lean of the post-2000 census drawn district based on the 2000 Presidential numbers relative to the national average. So a R +6 district is one in which George W. Bush ran 6 points ahead of his national showing (47.87%, or rounded to 48%), which as we all know was less than Al Gore's popular vote national...
(Thought provoking, very well informed, thanks for this diary! - promoted by lowkell)
Earlier today, Lowell brought to our attention the enthusiasm gap between Virginia Democrats and our Republican colleagues as we close out 2011 and look ahead to 2012 and 2013. Republican candidates are coming out of the Tea Party woodwork to prepare for statewide runs in 2013, while the Democratic side is silent. I joined the comments to promote discussion of several observations I have on the matter, but I wanted to pull them all together in a diary to get more discussion and throw out some more controversial thoughts.
First, 800 pound gorilla in the room is the Junior Senator from Virginia, soon to be Senior Senator, and former "His Excellency" Mark Warner.
There is a push in the party to get Warner to return to Richmond in 2013 as the only way to reverse the party's fortunes after setbacks in 2009 and 2011. You can see my comment on this possibility here. For this diary I'll just say that until we get a clear statement from Warner one way or another I wouldn't count on the Democratic lead up to 2013 to come alive with announcements.
Courtesy of tech whiz Dave Leichtman, see here for final (assuming Gov. McDonnell signs them into law, as he's said he will) House of Delegates redistricting maps and here for final Senate maps. A couple of examples: here are the 30th and 31st State Senate districts (click to "embiggen").
UPDATE: It appears the data posted here, at least for House districts, is...uh, "funky." Do a "before" and "after" on the 45th, for instance. If this were really the case, I think we would have heard something from David Englin by now. :)
UPDATE #2: Dave Leichtman seems to have fixed whatever the problem was. All is now well in the world. :)
Once upon a time, we believed in one person-one vote. How quaint of us! Of course, historically, we got sidetracked from that with discounting the lives of African Americans and native peoples. But once we emerged from the segregation era, we believed that perhaps once and for all, the equality of people would be respected. We were so wrong. Minorities are a primary target of the gerrymanderers. And so are the rest of Democrats.
Remember, this is the era of GOPhers trying to keep people from voting in so many ways. They try to challenge them at the polls causing them to use provisional ballots that will never be counted. They send out folks to flier minority cars telling them not to try to vote or they will be arrested. They use phony felon databases to purge non-felons from the voter rolls. And, in Virginia, they refuse to restore felon voting rights. They keep those prisons-for-profit filled and the voter rolls smaller. And now, even more than before, they dilute Democratic votes via gerrymandering.
Take a look at this article on redistricting in Politico. In a maneuver Tom Delay would be proud of, the Virginia Congressional delegation has a redistricting plan for you. In a state roughly split 50-50 along Democrat/Republican lines, Dems get only 3 majority districts. That is to say, districts have been gerrymandered to assure Dems only get 3 districts and GOPhers get 8. /11 on into the future. It should be half. That is to say, half the districts should be majority Democratic districts, not necessarily with Democratic Congressional electeds. But Democrats have been spliced, diced and fragmented into oblivion.
Dr. Bob Holsworth laid to rest this Tip O'Neill wisdom during a presentation at the annual gathering of Virginia Democrats yesterday. Bob McDonnell's Chairman of the Bipartisan Redistricting Commission talked a little about the political environment in Virginia. It will mean much for the future of American politics.
Dr. Holsworth has been struck by the volatility in the last three national elections (2006, 2008, 2010). He characterizes them as wave elections where Democrats ran the table in the Senate in 2006, had the Obama wave in 2008, then in 2009, 2010 there were counter-waves that have been fairly dramatic. Virginia seemed to flow with the national tide. 19 state legislatures changed hands this past election. Holsworth says that this is a reflection of the nationalization of politics. This, he argues, means that the Tip O'Neill maxim can rest in peace. Though there remains some truth to that, it is no longer an extraordinarily good explanation of trends.
40% of the people who voted this past November say that they voted to send a message to President Obama. All of the Democrats found out that they had running mates in Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi.
The Committee on Privileges and Elections of the Virginia House held a hearing on redistricting at Mason Hall on the GMU campus Tuesday evening, 5 October. Chairman Mark Cole, (R, 88th) District, was joined on the panel by Delegates David Albo (R, 42d), Rosalyn Dance (D, 63rd), and Jackson Miller (R,50th). This was one of three pre-redistricting hearings being held around the Commonwealth. Delegate Cole pointed out he intended the redistricting process to be fair, have input from everyone, and comply with federal and state constitutions and laws. He reminded the audience of approximately 50 that they were not there for a debate, but to listen to voters---- and he did get an earful from the thirteen speakers, I think not all of it to his liking.
Almost every speaker made a point of requesting transparency in the process, and pled for a truly non-partisan (or at least bipartisan) process to replace old-style backroom deals and gerrymandering, a point which did not appear to please Delegate Cole, who sat with his arms crossed during such testimony, although he thanked each speaker graciously for their input.
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