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Independent’s Day: Gerrymandering Again?

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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