By Delegates Jeion Ward, Sam Rasoul, and Rip Sullivan Ward represents Hampton, Rasoul represents Roanoke, Sullivan represents Arlington. | Posted: Wednesday, February 11, 2015 2:00 am
Ward represents Hampton, Rasoul represents Roanoke, Sullivan represents Arlington in the Virginia House of Delegates.
According to a recent Mary Washington University poll, 74 percent of Virginians agree that gerrymandering is a problem. They understand that our politicized system of drawing electoral districts is a major — perhaps THE major — reason for gridlock in Richmond and Washington. Why won’t Virginia expand Medicaid: gerrymandering. Why can’t Congress address immigration: gerrymandering.
In a May 22, 1989, speech in Chicago, Ronald Reagan insisted that “Gerrymandering is an abuse of power that distorts democracy.”
Unfortunately, the Republicans in the Virginia House of Delegates do not agree with the Gipper.
House Republicans have kept every redistricting proposal bottled up in the Privileges and Elections Committee this session, without even giving any of the proposals a hearing, let alone a vote.
In a rarely used procedural maneuver, the House Privileges and Elections Committee refused to refer redistricting legislation to any of the committee’s subcommittees. Neither has the full committee taken any action. We remain hopeful that the committee will hear bills that come over from the Senate after crossover, although the Privileges and Elections Committee could again opt to sit on the numerous bills that passed the Senate.
The strategy, while hardly new, is nevertheless surprising, since redistricting reform has received bipartisan support in the Virginia Senate and on opinion and editorial pages across Virginia.
For example, the Virginia Senate has already passed a number of bipartisan redistricting bills, including:
- SJ 284, offered by Co-Chief Patrons Republican Sen. Jill Vogel and Democratic Sen. Louise Lucas, which would establish a seven-member independent redistricting commission that included four members appointed by the majority and minority leadership in the House and the Senate, and three designated high-ranking public officials who hold nonpartisan positions. The Vogel/ Lucas resolution passed the Senate on a 27-12 vote.
- SB 824, introduced by Sen. John Miller, which puts a question on the ballot in the November election asking Virginia’s voters whether the General Assembly should pass a constitutional amendment establishing an Independent Redistricting Commission to draw state and congressional legislative districts. SB 824 passed the Senate on a 39-0 vote.
- SB 840, introduced by Republican Sen. John Watkins, which would add specific, well-defined and non-political redistricting criteria to the Code of Virginia. SB 840 passed the Senate on a 38-0 vote.
We introduced companion bills in the House of Delegates for each of these successful pieces of legislation. The House Privileges and Elections Committee spent precisely zero minutes this session considering our bills.
If there is anything more underhanded in a state legislature than picking our own voters, and more disappointing than manipulating voting maps so that districts are “safe” for the incumbent, it is the bold attempt to bottle up and not even hear bills to undo gerrymandering.
Consider what gerrymandering does to democracy in Virginia:
- Gerrymandering makes elections in many districts uncompetitive;
- Gerrymandering creates districts that make no sense geographically;
- The current redistricting process causes polarization;
- Politicians who manipulate maps hurt democracy and cause gridlock;
- The current redistricting process means votes don’t count.
- The current system ignores the principle that voters should choose their legislators, not the other way around.
The Privileges and Elections Committee surely is aptly named: Killing reform bills by denying them a hearing puts lawmakers’ privileges ahead of elections.
Please contact your legislators and tell them you demand action on redistricting reform in Virginia. The full Privileges and Elections Committee is Chaired by Del. Mark Cole; the Elections Subcommittee is Chaired by Del. Margaret Ransone, and its members are Dels. Steven Landes, Randy Minchew, Buddy Fowler, Mark Cole, Mark Sickles and Michael Futrell.
The constitutional amendment subcommittee is Chaired by Del. David Ramadan, and its members are Dels. Jackson Miller, Timothy Hugo, Nick Rush, Johnny Joannou, Joseph Lindsey, and Mark Cole. Please encourage them to consider our redistricting proposals, particularly SJ 284.