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Peter’s Take: The Case for Non-Partisan Redistricting in Va.

by Peter Rousselot February 12, 2013 at 3:15 pm 14 Comments

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.

Peter Rousselot

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.

Since 2010, Virginia’s Democratic leaders consistently have been outwitted and outmaneuvered on redistricting by Virginia’s Republican leaders. As a result, the percentage of seats Democrats hold in both houses of the legislature has been in free fall. Democrats are gasping for breath. They need a new strategy because partisan redistricting isn’t working for them.

Virginia Democrats should disregard the conventional wisdom that “everybody does it”, “this is just the way it is,” and “nobody cares.” Instead, Virginia Democrats should dramatically raise the profile of nonpartisan redistricting, and fight for it on all fronts—legislative, judicial, and in the court of public opinion—until they succeed.

Peter Rousselot is a member of the Central Committee of the Democratic Party of Virginia and former chair of the Arlington County Democratic Committee.

  • Paul

    As a highly partisan Democrat, Mr Rousselot is trying to pull the same scam in Virginia that the Democrats pulled in California. The California Democrat Party, working with the DNCC, organzised a secret campaign to scam the non-partisan commission created to draw Congressional Districts, and it succeeded. The citizens’ commission had pledged to create districts based on testimony from the communities themselves, not from parties or statewide political players. To get around that, Democrats surreptitiously enlisted local voters, elected officials, labor unions and community groups to testify in support of configurations that coincided with the party’s interests. As a result, even though Republican districts had a higher growth rate than Democratic Districts, the Republicans lost seats. The Districts in California are drawn to maximize the chances of Democrats winning the Districts.
    Beware of highly partisan Democrats hiding behind “non-partisanship.” It’s a Trojan Horse that ca’t be let through the city gates.

    When they appeared before the commission, those groups identified themselves as ordinary Californians and did not disclose their ties to the party. One woman who purported to represent the Asian community of the San Gabriel Valley was actually a lobbyist who grew up in rural Idaho, and lives in Sacramento.

    • dudeguy01

      Shorter version: If someone identifies with a political party, Paul never believes what they say. Ever.

      • Paul

        I guess the dudester spent his time in California surfing and not paying attention to politics.

    • Stan

      Here is a story from the slightly left-leaning group Pro Publica about the Democratic Party’s shenanigans in California: http://www.propublica.org/article/how-democrats-fooled-californias-redistricting-commission

      I think that other states, like Iowa, have managed the process better.

      • drax

        What a crock. It’s perfectly legitimate, and expected, that people would testify in their interests. And nobody was naive enough to think otherwise, including the commission.

    • Max

      I’m sorry I think that anyone who can’t say or spell the name of the Democratic party correctly should be ignored in general political discussion.

      • Paul

        And I think anyone who who defends the Democrat Party’s scams probably bought the Brooklyn Bridge twice.

        • drax

          Anyone who posts a partisan complaint about partisanship shouldn’t be taken seriously. And isn’t.

          You’re not fooling anyone.

    • Enough Already

      He looks like a Peter

    • Enough already

      He looks like a ‘Peter’

  • PR

    Just dump districts completely and go to proportional representation. Nobody’s vote is wasted.

  • mickey_

    What’s this guy smoking? Non-partisan? What’s that? Is that like Obama submitting a budget or the Senate passing one? Dude, get off the weed!!

  • LikeLike

    Non-partisan = democrat buzz word meaning we can’t get any support unless we b!tch, moan, and complain about how the other side is not listining.

    Non-partisan = republican buzz word meaning we can’t get any support unless we b!tch, moan, and complain about how the other side is not listining.

  • OldLee

    Call me naive…but I have always wondered why something like this could not be done.

    Step 1: Send 10 computer science wizards maps of each state with county-specific population data. Tell them to use mathematical formulas and population to devise geographically sound districts (based on each state’s number of House members). Hell, pay them each $5k.

    Step 2: Send all ten sets of maps to some third-party judge and have them pick the one that makes the most sense. Pay them another $5k.

    Simple as that. No Rs or Ds involved. Just math, reason and common sense. Maybe it’s all done outside of the US to avoid noses being stuck where they are not needed. We could use something like elance, and probably get 10 reasonable options for less than $5k!

    Redistricting solved…what’s next?


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