Redistricting Would Push Arlington Senate District into Loudoun

by ARLnow.com March 30, 2011 at 9:17 am 4,503 40 Comments

If legislators approve the new state Senate districts drawn up by Senate Democrats, Arlington County voters will soon share a state Senator with Loudoun County.

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.

The Senate redistricting plan has already been assailed by former Arlington County Democratic Committee chair Peter Rousselot, who is calling it “the product of top down, hierarchical, dictatorial planning designed to protect individual incumbent Democratic Senators behind a supposed ‘firewall’ to preserve a Democratic majority in the Virginia State Senate.”

“This ‘planning’ is bad policy and bad politics,” Rousselot writes, to the chagrin of the plan’s Democratic drafters. “The general public and editorial writers across the Commonwealth have the common sense to realize that this process is decidedly un-democratic.”

Ben Tribbett, who has said he may be interested in running for the 31st district state Senate seat, is also ripping the plan. However, Tribbett is criticizing it for not doing enough to protect safe Democratic districts.

“On paper they improve Democratic performance in some swing districts, but do so by lowering it in safer districts,” Tribbett writes. “In the lowest turnout elections, Republicans can come dangerously close to Democrats even in places like Alexandria and Arlington with the right candidates.”

Additional analysis of Arlington’s reconfigured House of Delegates districts is available on Blue Virginia.

  • V Dizzle

    Is there some viewpoint that paints redistricting as an ethical practice? State or Federal, at either level.

    • borf

      I don’t understand your question.

      • V Dizzle

        I know the act of redistricting is an accepted practice and has some rational function, but to me I don’t see it as ethical behavior (when done with party lines in mind). I’m looking for something that I’m missing. The two parties carving out districts that guarantee them reelection, or at least limit competition, doesn’t seem right. If the constituency changes in your district, so should the representation. Again, I really may be missing the point. Maybe the redistricting is formulaic in VA, and has a positive that I don’t see.

        • cj

          In an ideal democracy, redistricting would be a nonpartisan function carried out by civic leaders of impeccable integrity. Districts would be not only equal in population but also compact, contiguous, and respectful of local jurisdictional boundaries and the interests of ethnic and cultural (as opposed to partisan or incumbent) communities.

          Outrageous dreams do blossom in the spring …

          • borf

            Ideally, we would dump districts altogether and have proportional representation instead.


          • Thes

            +1 (or +100,000,000 or whatever the “+” inflation is up to nowadays) At least in one chamber of the Assembly. There’s something to be said for having “your” member of the statehouse you can call to get a problem solved, but for policy purposes, we’d be much better off if we could band together across the state with like-minded people to form coalitions based on the needs of the day. (Queue the inapt comparison to parliamentary systems in other countries, which don’t have separately elected executives…)

          • borf

            And this redistricting process and jockeying for advantage will show you why PR will never ever happen. It’s much to fair and rational.

          • Jason

            I couldn’t agree more, CJ.

        • borf

          You have to redistrict after every census to make sure each district has about the same population.

          It’s hard not to do it in a way that has political impact on someone. The only way to erase that is to hand it off to some independent commission or a computer. Iowa does it that way, though in Iowa the legislature still votes up or down on the proposed map.

          • V Dizzle

            Gotcha, I forgot that the function is redistribution of the population after the census. You’d think a simple computer model overlayed on mapping data could simply propose new boundaries, only based on geometry…but that might take days for a consultant to create…. (sigh) Of course neither party would be for this.

          • borf

            There are some legal constraints that make it harder to abuse the system though. Under the Voting Rights Act, you can’t use redistricting to weaken a racial minority, for instance. And all the districts have to have roughly equal numbers of people living in them.

          • GMo

            Specifically to that point, the majority of jusrisdictions in Virginia are still required to submit for pre-clearance.

  • Lou

    I fully support the efforts of the Democratic majority in the Senate.

    • Peter Rousselot

      You may fully support the Senate Democratic leadership, but if you are, why are you? Do you support them because you think they are playing “hardball”, and that’s just the way the game is played? The Saslaw/Whipple plan claims it’s playing hardball, but it fails miserably to do so: http://notlarrysabato.typepad…. The Saslaw/Whipple plan depends for its success on a Devil’s bargain with the VA House GOP leadership: if you’ll vote for our plan, we’ll vote for yours. Thus, Saslaw and Whipple have agreed to support and vote for a VA House GOP redistricting plan that guarantees Virginia Republicans a veto-proof majority in the HOD for a generation. Is that what you want too? Do you call that “hardball”? Dick “the Hammer” Saslaw has not only hit his own thumb hard on this one, he has tried to hit all of our thumbs as well. I for one am not buying it.

      • cj

        Is this outburst a campaign warmup?

        • Peter Rousselot

          No, I am not going to be running for the 31st District Senate seat or any other seat. Instead, I am against the Saslaw/Whipple plan because it represents a bad combination: very bad public policy and very bad political strategy for Democrats.

      • Lou

        I support it because of where I live in the county and how the plan would shift my senatorial representation. No Machiavellian diatribe necessary for me to explain that one. And since I generally vote Republican, you can guess how I feel about the compromise of letting the House draw up their plan for easy approval.

        And by “generally”, I meant every single election I’ve ever voted in.

        • V Dizzle

          Again, there is no requirement to make decisions based on ethics. What do I get, seems to be all we ask ourselves. That’s why I generally don’t vote Republican….or Democrat for that matter.

          • borf

            Who do you vote for?

  • Arlwhenever

    Fascinating. This gives David Foster a real chance in the 31st District should he choose to run. He will cream Barbara Favola outside of Arlington, and pick up some loyal Arlington supporters along the way.

    • Ray

      Who’s David Foster?

      • Aaron

        The only non-Democrat to win a local election in Arlington County since Reconstruction, give or take a few. I’d selfishly prefer that he keep his head down and keep on doing good work in Arlington rather than chase after a seat in Richmond.

  • Gerrymander

    The word you are looking for is Gerrymandering.

    • Ann of Tan Gables

      “Looking for”? The article uses it.

    • borf

      “Gerrymandering” means drawing a district of such ridiculous shape, ignoring other natural or political boundaries, in order to put together a majority of voters to support a certain candidate or party. It’s not gerrymandering if the district supports a certain candidate or party but isn’t a crazy shape.

      Arlnow calls the proposed new district “gerrymandered” and while it’s long and thin, it’s not really that crazy of a shape.

      Here’s an example of a really bad gerrymandering job:


      Districts like this are sometimes actually encouraged by the Voting Rights Act in order to assure that blacks or other minorities get as much representation as possible.

  • Peter Rousselot, chairman of the Arlington County Democratic Committee for 4 years, says that the Saslaw/Whipple Redistricting Plan “should be repudiated.”


    • Homeowner

      If PR and the ACDC are against it, I’m all for it.

      • borf

        The ACDC is against killing puppies. Puppy killer!

      • cj

        ACDC has not taken a position on this.

        • V Dizzle

          Isn’t taking no position really a position? Did I blow your mind?

          • borf

            Maybe you blew your own mind?

            ACDC is mentioned because Peter Rousselot is former chairman. ACDC hasn’t taken a position on this.

          • V Dizzle

            ..which is there current position.

          • V Dizzle

            ..rather, “their”..

          • borf

            Actually, not really – the ACDC could have voted to “take no position,” i.e. remain neutral, on something. As far as I know, they haven’t considered it yet or voted on it, so they could take a position in the future. Subtle difference, but important.

          • V Dizzle

            I get that, but I like to keep a hard line on topics involving puppies, even if it’s an arbitrary one.

          • Jason

            ACDC hasn’t even met since the plans came out yesterday. So, when people say ACDC hasn’t taken a position, that’s what they mean. ACDC members are only now reading and analyzing the plan, like everyone else.

        • Homeowner

          On what? Killing puppies?

  • charlie

    Virginia redistricting still has to pass muster with the Department of Justice as we are one of the states still “under review” for fairness in voting (or some similar term).

    The vast unfairness needed to be addressed. The problem is that Northern Virginia continues to have NO IDEA on how to exert their CLOUT in Richmond and we will get the short end of the stick, a less short end, but still the short end.

  • Reminds me of the redistricting I worked with in 1981 and after … VA district 33, “Old Man River,” Del. Robert T. Andrews (R-McLean), ran from Chain Bridge (Arlington/Fairfax) to Ashburn (Loudoun). In the Washington Post, working for Del. Andrews, I proposed an independent redistricting commission, applying Common Cause principles and open government practices. I think we/he drafted a bill, but didn’t fly far. About 1991, Bob was redistricted into the same district as Minority Leader Vince Callahan, so Bob shifted to enter Senate race, which was won by blue blood incumbent Clive Duval (D-McLean) … both good guys. Things haven’t changed that much … JW

  • MIchael H.

    Anyone remember that picture of Ward Armstrong on the front page of the Washington Post many years ago? He has a completely zoned out look on his face because someone is droning on in the meeting room. It’s one of the funniest political pictures I’ve ever seen. Can’t find it on the Post’s website though.


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