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Independent’s Day: Gerrymandering Again?

by Jason Howell — January 23, 2013 at 2:30 pm 1,288 31 Comments

Independent’s Day is a weekly opinion column by published on Wednesdays. The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

Independent Congressional candidate Jason HowellOn one of the most innocuous days in politics, the Presidential Inauguration, partisanship once again took a bold new step in Richmond.

On Wednesday night the Washington Post reported that some of our Virginia Senators cast a vote to change our local districts and favor their party. They did this despite the reality that our Commonwealth, along with many states in our union, just recently redistricted all of the state “lines” last year.

Around this time a year ago, I shared a conversation with fellow Virginia independent candidate for U.S. Congress, Mr. Mark Gibson. He ran against newly re-elected U.S. Representative Gerry Connolly in Virginia’s 11th Congressional district. Mark shared that Reston, part of the then current 8th Congressional District, was being moved back to the 11th. I hadn’t realized that this was going into effect so soon. I nervously made multiple phone calls to our Virginia State Board of Elections. It wasn’t until late March that the new districts had been confirmed and my signature gathering process could confidently continue.

As frustrating as the jostling of entire townships was to me as a first-time candidate, it was even more disheartening to read into the possible motives.  The documentary film Gerrymandering describes well the process, perpetrated by both major parties, that leaves the true “electing” to state representatives. The movie used to be free on their website but now you may have to dig around on-line for it. It’s worth the find but be careful; the film may encourage you to do something crazy like run for office as an independent.

In simple terms, gerrymandering is the process by which politicians outline the neighborhoods that will likely vote in their party’s favor; they then “draw” them into their voting district. This nearly guarantees that their party will win the November elections (and that unless they lose in the primary, they will win individually). November elections have become less of a deciding factor than the primary elections held earlier in the election year, when fewer people are casting votes. This is a big reason why we have had U.S. Congressional retention rates hovering over 80% since 1964. In addition, most people casting votes in June (our 2012 primary month) are traditionally more partisan; which leads to more polarity in our political choices.

The apparent gerrymandering in Richmond this week continues to drive a familiar political wedge between our neighborhoods. These divisions are not reflective of our true nature to understand then be understood. We are better able to “come to the table” when we are not sent to our corners — so are our legislators.

Our governor has an opportunity to veto this bill should he be interested in distancing himself from the appearance of unhealthy partisanship. Having just performed a redistricting action last year, he could easily question the constitutionality of another plan, just one year later. Governor McDonnell could also have a U.S. Supreme Court decision on the Voting Rights Act to lean on for this veto action, should he go in that direction.

Virginia is once again making national news with this latest action by members of our legislature. Here’s hoping our Governor has the support he needs to make a wise decision about our commonwealth’s future and reputation.

Jason Howell, a former accountant and a motivational speaker, ran as an independent candidate for U.S. Congress in 2012.

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  • Billy

    Sounds like something we’re used to in Beirut Lebanon… Doesn’t look America is that more democratic now, does it?

  • novasteve

    I’m curious why the gerrymandering in Maryland, to get Roscoe Bartlett out of office, wasn’t national headlines? You don’t get more shameless than that.

    http://www.tnr.com/blog/plank/109938/welcome-americas-most-gerrymandered-district

  • drax

    Gerrymandering has been around since the beginning of our republic. It’s not like it’s a new thing. And all the parties do it. In fact, it’s hard not to draw the lines without political favoritism of some kind – it’s just a matter of how ridiculous the lines are. Gerrymandering doesn’t just mean drawing districts that favor one party or another – it means drawing ridiculously mis-shapen districts to accomplish it.

    It’s not gerrymandering that is the outrage here, it’s the way they passed this (and the fact that they’re doing it again after the normal redistricting in 2011).

    • Hee-Haw

      “Joke Coming”…Hey everybody, look who made a post without having to disagree with another commenter…

  • Virginian

    I think it’s both gerrymandering and the process by which they did it. I’m all in favor of making districts as “square”/standard as possible based on population and population alone.

    • drax

      By population? But that doesn’t help at all. You could draw them a million different ways by population, as long as they had the same population in each. How do we know which way is better?

  • Arlington Cat

    It is worse-they also are also trying to get our 2016 electoral vote apportioned, and not winner take all. In one plan, despite a solid popular vote victory in 2012, an apportionment of Virginia’s electoral vote would have given Obama only four votes to 9 for Republican nominee Mitt Romney.

  • Dude Where’s My Car

    It’s not just the underhanded, sneaky way they did this, by letting this bill collect dust until one of the Democrats was attending the inauguration, thus allowing it to pass by a SINGLE VOTE. It’s that they waited until MLK’s birthday to do this, and then decided to adjourn “in memory of Stonewall Jackson.”

    http://leg1.state.va.us/cgi-bin/legp504.exe?131+min+SM0121

    you know, just in case it wasn’t crystal clear that this was a big MIDDLE FINGER to all the black residents of Virginia, they yelled STONEWALL JACKSON! and then dropped the mic and walked offstage.

    Stay classy, Virginia GOP.

    Colbert did a great piece on gerrymandering yesterday:

    http://www.colbertnation.com/the-colbert-report-videos/423114/january-22-2013/the-word—win–lose–or-redraw

  • Neededadayoff

    He should have showed up to work like the rest of the senators.

    • HookyPlayer

      A quorum is a quorum. Nice to see government actually getting things done.

    • drax

      There is a power-sharing agreement in the Senate. The Republicans violated it. The Dems haven’t ever tried to pass such sweeping legislation, without warning, when a Republican was out of town.

      It’s dirty politics.

      • Botetourt

        No, there is not a power sharing agreement in place in the legislature.

        • drax

          True, they never made a formal one, but there’s a gentleman’s agreement.

          Or at least there was until now.

          • Pete

            lol, no again. There has only been one other time recently when the Senate had a 20-20 split, and they went to great lengths to establish a specific agreement to share power and divvy up the committee positions, etc.

            This time with the 20-20 split, there has been zero agreement on power sharing, gentlemanly or otherwise.

          • drax

            The Senate normally operates using “gentleman’s” rules, like not sneaking major legislation through while one key Senator is out on a federal holiday celebrating a major event. Or at least it used to. I hope the Dems turn the tables some time.

          • Pete

            You don’t understand. It only matters when there is an equal split on party lines. There’s no gentlemen’s rules, only power sharing agreements when that is the case. And power sharing has less to do with floor votes than it has to do with committee chairmanships and membership. That is where the real power sharing takes place. Do some research.

            Any other time, the majority passes what they want, because they have the MAJORITY. It doesn’t matter how many of the minority show up. Does that make sense? No sneaking involved, they do it right in their face because they have the majority.

            You’re making up stuff that just does not exist. First “power sharing”, then “gentlemen’s rules”. Sheesh. Way to expose a weak argument.

  • PJ

    Your commentary is one-sided, incomplete, and uninspiring. Our Commonwealth is strong and our reputation better than many other states. Are we going bankrupt like California? Do we have a high population of non-bachelor degree adults like West VA? Do we have high crime rates? How is our unemployment rate? Are our state taxes extremely high? Do we proactively attract businesses to our state? No wonder why you lost, it’s probably due to your negativity and stale ideas.

    “Here’s hoping our Governor has the support he needs to make a wise decision about our commonwealth’s future and reputation.”

    Your assumption is it’s unwise if Republicans do it, but wise if Democrat’s do it? Nice plea for bi-partisanship when you clearly have a partisan bias. Your thoughts on Illinois’ gerrymandering?

    If you really want to fix “U.S. Congressional retention rates hovering over 80% since 1964″, how about you consider an inspiring article on the idea of Congressional term limits and compare that to our founding father’s original plan for Government service?

    • spaghetti

      You know California has a surplus now, right?

    • drax

      The founding fathers didn’t including term limits in the Constitution.

  • David A.

    Let’s be honest, if the situation was reversed the Senate Democrats in Richmond would have done exactly the same thing.

    • drax

      No they wouldn’t, and you know it.

      • NS4L

        How do you know that? Did you speak to Dick Saslaw, or anybody?

        • drax

          How does David A. know they would? Did he speak to Saslaw?

          • Kate

            So you don’t know. Thanks.

  • GreaterClarendon

    I should start a new organization promoting a constitutional amendment for “The Grid.” Take every state and redistrict in square shapes (maybe a little rougher around the state lines – but you get the idea). Big metros will have smaller squares and rural areas will have bigger squares – as long as the populations are relatively equal. This would cut out the extremes of both sides for the most part, and bring back the moderates! Full disclosure, I’m a moderate republican, leaning libertarian.

  • thrak

    I read an article about this yesterday and just loved a quote by Senate Majority Leader Norment, after admitting the plan was pushed through solely for political reasons: “”I understand yesterday was not one of the finest days in the Senate,” Norment said. “[But] to hear vitriolic comments like ‘There’s going to be no transportation plan, there’s going to be no education plan,’ those are policy issues that [Democrats would allow to be] impacted by a political consequence.”

    So he’s surprised or angered that there may be consequences for the actions he admits weren’t “pretty”??

    • drax

      It’s amazing that he thinks that a redistricting plan that would make Dems the minority should be less important to Dems than transportation and education too.

  • drax

    This is alot like what happened in Michigan with the lame-duck, last-minute right to work law. Republicans have to sneak things through. Don’t even make the mistake of trusting them.

  • LPS4DL

    It’s just another desperate measure taken by the desperate Republicans trying to hold on a little longer to their death grip over Virginia. Don’t worry, their time is drawing to a close.

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