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Peter’s Take: McAuliffe Takes On Richmond Political Practices

Peter’s Take is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

Peter RousselotLast week, Gov. Terry McAuliffe took on Richmond’s political culture in two major areas: ethics reform and partisan redistricting. Regardless of the final outcome, the bills passed on these subjects by the legislature reflect the wrong priorities. McAuliffe’s responses are right.

Ethics Reform

As I explained last month, the ethics reform bill passed by the Virginia legislature was chock full of loopholes, many inserted at the eleventh hour. Governor McAuliffe now has put the legislature on notice that he is going to exercise his constitutional authority to amend the bill.

The most important amendment will provide a cumulative annual cap of $100 on gifts to state and local employees and legislators (includes Richmond and Arlington). As McAuliffe explains:

I believe an aggregate limit of $100 annually is necessary for meaningful reform.

The General Assembly’s ethics bill proposes a $100 cap per gift, which means a legislator may accept free meals from the same lobbyist every day of the year.

Other McAuliffe amendments will:

  • prohibit any gift to legislators from individuals seeking a contract with state government;
  • narrow the “widely attended events” exemption; and
  • require that official travel paid for by third parties by reported even if those trips are exempted from the gift cap.

All of these amendments strengthen the bill.

Partisan Redistricting

In a more directly confrontational move, Governor McAuliffe vetoed six bills authorizing partisan redistricting. Each vetoed bill follows a time-honored Richmond tradition of making what are labeled “technical” changes to the boundaries between legislative districts. These technical changes usually involve swapping one or more predominantly Republican precincts in legislative district “A” for one or more predominantly Democratic precincts in legislative district “B.”

For example, among the bills McAuliffe vetoed is

One proposed by Sen. Bryce Reeves (R) that would have made his Spotsylvania district more Republican — and safer for him — as he faces a Democratic challenger this year. The measure would have traded precincts with a neighboring district represented by Sen. Creigh Deeds (D), giving Deeds a heavily Democratic precinct and taking for himself a Republican one.

In vetoing the bills, Governor McAuliffe stated that each bill violated the Virginia constitutional requirement that legislative lines be re-drawn once every ten years to take into account new census results. Regardless of the merits of that constitutional argument, McAuliffe was right to veto the bills.

It’s a good way to highlight the negative effects of partisan redistricting in which incumbent legislators choose their voters rather than the other way around. Richmond incumbents from both political parties have a long-standing culture of which partisan redistricting forms an important part.

Conclusion

Governor McAuliffe deserves praise for challenging Richmond’s undemocratic political practices.

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

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