Peter’s Take is a weekly opinion column published on Tuesdays. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.
While Virginia Democratic State Senator Henry Marsh was attending President Obama’s inauguration last month, Virginia Republican Senators ambushed their Democratic counterparts, and passed a far-reaching bill to redraw the lines of Virginia’s districts.
On Feb. 6, Republican House Speaker William Howell effectively killed this bill by ruling that the proposed massive Senate redistricting was not a germane amendment to the minor House redistricting bill to which it was attached. One can only imagine what concessions on other legislation were extracted from Virginia Democrats behind the scenes in exchange for Republicans “voluntarily” killing the Senate redistricting bill.
This 2013 Senate Republican redistricting ploy came only two years after Va. Senate Democrats and Va. House Republicans struck a deal in which Democrats allowed Republicans free rein to gerrymander the district lines in the House in exchange for allowing Democrats free rein to gerrymander the district lines in the Senate.
What all these deals have in common: hyper-partisanship by Republicans and Democrats, incumbent protection, and legislators choosing their voters—rather than the other way round. Other states have found better ways to do this, and Virginia should too.
John Miller, a Democratic Senator from Virginia’s 1st Senate District in Newport News, has proposed SB 742—a bill to create a bipartisan Virginia Redistricting Commission to draw the legislative district lines. Senator Miller’s bill certainly isn’t perfect—but it’s a big step up from the chaotic hyper-partisan system Virginia has now.
Even better would be legislation to create a non-partisan redistricting commission. Efforts to do that have been blocked repeatedly by Virginia Republican legislators, most recently when a House of Delegates subcommittee unanimously voted to table such a proposal by Democratic Delegate Betsy Carr of Richmond. Republican opponents of Carr’s proposal claimed there couldn’t be any such thing as a nonpartisan redistricting commission, conveniently ignoring that California and other states have one.
A redistricting effort by Republicans in the Virginia Senate, which would have resulted in Arlington losing much of its legislative clout in that body, has been defeated.
The state Senate passed the surprise redistricting plan on Jan. 21 by a party-line vote of 20-19, thanks to the absence of Democratic Senator Henry Marsh, a civil rights lawyer who was attending President Obama’s inauguration that day. The unexpected vote drew strong criticism from Democrats and Republican Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling.
The redistricting plan would have benefited Republicans, turning several Democratic-held districts heavily Republican. It would also have reduced Arlington’s legislative influence, moving veteran state Senator Janet Howell’s district back out of Arlington (she represents part of north Arlington as a result of the 2011 redistricting) and reducing state Sen. Adam Ebbin’s portion of Arlington to a small sliver of south Arlington.
Arlington’s interests would have been represented in the state Senate primarily by Sen. Barbara Favola, the former Arlington County Board member who was elected to the state legislature in 2011.
The redistricting plan, which was tacked on to a bill that was supposed to make small technical changes to House of Delegates districts, was ruled not germane by Republican House Speaker Bill Howell on Wednesday, defeating it.
Hotel Palomar For Sale? — Connecticut-based HEI Hospitality LLC is in talks to buy Hotel Palomar (1121 19th Street N.) in Rosslyn for a reported $45 million, or nearly $300,000 per room. The high-end hotel is currently owned by JBG Cos. and operated by Kimpton Hotels. [Bloomberg]
Redistricting Lawsuit Could Delay Primaries — Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli has requested that the state delay the June 12 congressional primaries by two months, following a decision by the Virginia Supreme Court to allow a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the state’s recent redistricting process to proceed. [Washington Post]
Planetarium Renovations On Track — Renovations to Arlington’s David M. Brown Planetarium are underway and on schedule. The modernized planetarium is expected to reopen this fall, perhaps as early as September. A citizen-formed nonprofit group, the Friends of Arlington’s Planetarium, helped to raise more than $400,000 for the renovations. [Sun Gazette]
Yorktown Band Seeks Donations — The Yorktown Band Boosters are seeking donations of used musical instruments and cases. The 501(c)3 nonprofit asks that those with questions about donating call 703-228-5370.
Petition Contractor Waives Extradition — The man whose company was hired to collect signatures for a petition to change Arlington’s form of government is likely headed to the Arlington County lockup. Shawn D. Wilmoth, 24, was indicted last month on voter fraud charges. Yesterday he waived extradition in Macomb County, Mich. [Washington Post]
McLean Residents May Sue Over Redistricting ‘Insult’ — McLean residents are apparently none too pleased that their pristine ‘burb has had its state Senate representation split in two by redistricting. One of the new McLean districts is the 31st, which also includes most of North Arlington. One resident said it was an “insult” to have their neighborhood lumped in with Arlington. A McLean citizens group is contemplating a lawsuit over the redistricting outcome. [Sun Gazette]
Curious Grape to Hold Moving Sale — The Curious Grape will be closing its Shirlington location at the end of the month. To help prepare for the move to a new, thus-far-unannounced location, the store is holding a moving sale. Alexandria-based wine-and-cheese retailer Cheesetique will be taking over the store after Curious Grape moves out. [Shirlington Village Blog]
How to Score Free Coffee — Patch has come up with a comprehensive guide for scoring free coffee in and around Arlington. Among the tips: pretend like you’re interested in the espresso maker at Williams Sonoma and ask for a sample, go car shopping and ask for coffee, or get free samples at Whole Foods. [Patch]
The plan, however, does not change the serpentine borders of the 31st District, which will stretch from North Arlington to Loudoun County along the Potomac River. Likewise, the 30th District will remain unchanged from the first plan, which took away a bit of South Arlington territory from the district’s borders.
If approved by Gov. McDonnell as expected, the plan will place McLean millionaire Caren Merrick within the borders of the 31st District. Merrick has already announced her intention of running for the state Senate as a Republican.
Merrick would face the winner of a Democratic primary battle between Barbara Favola and Lt. Col. Jaime Areizaga-Soto. Democratic technology consultant Ben Tribbett is mulling a run as well, but has been waiting for the district’s borders to be finalized before making a decision.
Virgina Gov. Bob McDonnell vetoed a redistricting plan approved by the General Assembly, adding another layer of drama to the local races for state legislature.
McDonnell, a Republican, said the districts in the Democratic-controlled state Senate’s redistricting plan did not “preserve communities of interest, ensure compact districts and maintain generally equivalent populations in each district.” That, the governor said, is a violation of state and federal law.
This is the first time a Virginia governor has vetoed a redistricting plan since 1981.
Senate Majority Leader Dick Saslaw, meanwhile, is accusing Gov. McDonnell of “playing politics” with his veto. He pledged to approve the exact same redistricting plan again while daring the governor to veto it.
The plan approved by Saslaw and the state Senate would have extended the Arlington-centric 31st District (above) into eastern Fairfax and Loudoun counties. McDonnell’s veto will throw the races for the 30th and 31st state Senate districts into a state of uncertainty — candidates will have no way of knowing the final boundaries of the district they’re running for.
The state House and Senate redistricting plans were unveiled last night and, unsurprisingly, the new district boundaries would give a boost to the majority party in each chamber. The Democratic-controlled state Senate plan would force two pairs of Republican senators to run against each other, while the Republican-controlled House plan moves the districts of three Democratic delegates, including that of House Minority Leader Ward Armstrong.
For Arlington, the state Senate plan will dilute Arlington’s influence in one district, the 31st, while the county picks up a third district, the 32nd. Arlington will lose some territory from the 30th district, which is subject to a three-way Democratic primary battle.
The 31st district — held by the retiring Sen. Mary Margaret Whipple — currently consists of most of North Arlington, Falls Church and a slim part of eastern Fairfax County. The new, gerrymandered district will run from the Pentagon and Columbia Pike to the south, through the eastern half of North Arlington, through Great Falls, and up to some Loudoun County neighborhoods near the Potomac River.
Analysis on the Blue Virginia web site suggests that Arlington may retain the majority of the district’s population, but the sprawling district could present some logistical problems for County Board member Barbara Favola, who is running for the 31st district seat. Del. Patrick Hope is also considering a run for the Democratic 31st district nomination.
The 32nd district, currently a Fairfax and Loudoun County district represented by Democratic state Sen. Janet Howell, will shift into northwestern Arlington County. It will run through Tyson’s Corner, all the way west to Reston and part of Chantilly. Arlington neighborhoods like Westover, Yorktown and East Falls Church would have to compete with the interests of Fairfax County residents — which could get interesting if the topic of I-66 widening is ever brought up.
New Bar Coming to Columbia Pike — William Jeffrey’s Tavern will be a 6,500 square foot bar and restaurant on the ground floor of the Siena Park apartment complex, across the street from Bob & Edith’s Diner. The tavern, owned by the team behind Ragtime and Rhodeside Grill, is expected to open this fall. [Pike Wire]
Arlington Funds Slugging Web Site — Each year, Arlington allots $10,000 out of its $8 million commuter services budget to fund Slug-Lines.com, a privately-run internet resource for the area’s unique, grassroots carpooling system. [Miller-McCune Magazine]
Recalling Java Shack’s Nazi Past — Of course, nobody at Clarendon’s Java Shack has any Nazi affiliation. But the cafe’s building does. TBD recalls the days when the building was the headquarters of the American Nazi Party. Another reminder of the building’s infamous past: the occasional appearance of nostalgic Nazi fliers. [TBD]
New Wakefield High Will Have Lots of Bike Parking — The new $115 million Wakefield High School will include 304 bike parking spaces, up from the old school’s 45 spaces. The Sun Gazette’s Scott McCaffrey wonders if that’s a bit optimistic of school planners. [Sun Gazette Editor's Blog]
Falls Church (Hearts) Arlington — In an editorial, the Falls Church News-Press addresses redistricting rumors that the 31st State Senate District — which now encompasses Arlington County, Falls Church and a slice of eastern Fairfax County — will be shifted north into McLean and Great Falls, leaving tiny Falls Church to be folded into the Fairfax-centric 32nd State Senate District. That’s frowned upon by the FCNP. “Falls Church is the spiritual sister of Arlington, far more than Fairfax County,” the editorial says. [Falls Church News-Press]
(Updated at 2:20 p.m.) Every ten years, following the U.S. Census, the Virginia legislature gathers in Richmond to redraw the state’s legislative boundaries. And every ten years, the party that’s in power at the time attempts to draw the borders in a way that favors their electoral chances.
It’s called ‘gerrymandering,’ and it’s practiced in state houses across the country.
But the Virginia chapter of the League of Women Voters has seen enough. Together with the national LWV organization, they’ve been pushing for the past seven years to take redistricting responsibility away from state legislators and put it into the hands of some sort of nonpartisan commission or process.
“We believe that although we have some great state legislators, them drawing their own lines is like having the foxes guarding the hen house,” said Olga Hernandez, president of the LVW of Virginia, at a forum in Ballston last week. “We just think there should be a fairer way of representing people and the interests of the community”
It may be too late for this go-round; the redistricting process is set to get underway in April. Since the forum, Gov. Bob McDonnell has created a bipartisan commission to help oversee this year’s redistricting process. But Hernandez is hopeful that lawmakers may finally be on the verge of passing more permanent reform that would promote transparency instead of the past preponderance of backroom deals.
Redistricting reform has made for some strange but powerful political bedfellows. Arlington’s Del. Bob Brink (D), Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli (R), former gubernatorial candidate Creigh Deeds (D) and Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling (R) have all been supportive of the League’s efforts, Hernandez said.
“It’s not just one side” of the political spectrum, she said.
Hernandez points to California as a state that was heavily gerrymandered after the last census, but which has since reformed its system thanks to a voter referendum and support from Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. While she believes Virginia could be on the same path, she acknowledged that it’s still an uphill battle.
“It’s hard to get people to give up power,” Hernandez noted.
This year, as far as Arlington’s state legislators and congressman are concerned, redistricting is not expected to have much of an effect. While rapidly-growing Northern Virginia counties like Prince William and Stafford are likely to add districts and radically change district boundaries, Arlington has grown at a more modest pace and will likely only see minor changes and contractions in district borders.
Redistricting occurs every ten years in conjunction following the U.S. Census. It traditionally is a partisan process, with the majority party drawing districts in a way that helps their election chances the most. This year, however, the Republican-controlled House of Delegates will have to work with the Democratic-controlled Senate.
As an added wrinkle, the plans will for the first time face the scrutiny of a Democratic Justice Department. Under the Voting Rights Act, the Justice Department has oversight over Virginia’s redistricting process. Since the Voting Rights Act passed in the 1960s, redistricting has always occurred during a Republican presidential administration.
The legislature will enter a special session in April to carry out the redistricting process. To make sure delays don’t affect the state primary, scheduled for June 14, Del. Mark Cole (the Fredericksburg Republican of microchip implantation fame), has introduced a bill that would move the primary date to Sept. 13.
If passed, the bill would apply to all primaries in the state, including those for county officials.
Del. Bob Brink (D-Arlington), speaking to the League of Women Voters of Arlington last night, said he believes the proposal will become law.
“I think it’s highly likely that this bill will go through,” Brink said.
County No Longer Offering iParks — The company that makes the iPark electronic parking pass has stopped manufacturing the device due to financial problems. That has prompted Arlington County to stop selling iParks, pending the company’s effort to stay in business. More from TBD.
O’Leary, Morroy Announce Reelection Bid — Arlington County Treasurer Frank O’Leary and Commissioner of Revenue Ingrid Morroy, both Democrats, announced their bids for reelection at last night’s Arlington County Democratic Committee meeting. See the video from Blue Virginia.
Arlington Man Indicted for Bomb Threats — The 25-year-old Arlington View resident who, according to the FBI, threatened to bomb Georgetown streets and Metro trains on Facebook has been indicted by a federal grand jury. More from WTOP.
Learn More About Redistricting in Virginia — The League of Women Voters of Arlington will be holding a public forum tonight on the upcoming redistricting process in Virginia. The forum will take place from 7:00 to 9:00 p.m. at the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association building, located at 4301 Wilson Boulevard in Ballston. Free parking is available in the building after 5:30.
Bayou Bakery Sneak Peak — Eat More Drink More scores the first photos inside Courthouse’s new Bayou Bakery. The elaborately-decorated cafe/restaurant has a distinct New Orleans theme, which extends from the decor to the food. It could be open as soon as Monday, Nov. 15.
Virginia’s Redistricting Process Demystified — The Virginia Public Access Project has a handy video guide to the upcoming redistricting process in the Commonwealth.
Immigrant Groups Continue Push — Arlington has more or less given up on trying to opt out of the Secure Communities immigration enforcement program. But the immigrant rights groups that led the charge for withdrawing from the program aren’t done fighting. They filed a Freedom of Information Act request last month for more details about the opt-out process, and plan on sharing the results with Arlington County. More from the Washington Independent.
Flickr pool photo by pderby