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Redistricting: A (Political) Silver Lining?

By Brandy Simpson | May 5, 2011 | No Comments

Last Friday, Gov. Bob McDonnell (R) signed a legislative redistricting bill that defines new district boundaries for the state Senate and the House of Delegates.  Occurring every ten years, legislative redistricting is often a contentious event that leaves Democrats and Republicans stubbornly divided.  This time wasn’t any different; Gov. McDonnell vetoed the first proposed Senate map backed by a majority of Democrats.  After the first Senate map was rejected, a small group of senators from both parties sat down early Thursday morning and hashed out their differences over the map.

While many are still unhappy with the result, and the fact that many district lines protect incumbents and harden partisan lines, this rare instance of bipartisanship still shows parties are still capable of working together, even in Virginia — and that, in and of itself, is a good thing.

The new Senate map reflects significant demographic changes in Virginia. Southwestern Virginia lost seats due to the great population growth that Northern Virginia has experienced over the past ten years.  A new Northern Virginia district, comprised of just Loudoun and Prince William counties, can also be attributed to the increased population.  In the revised map, a new district was pushed further away from Richmond in a move to appease a few Richmond-based Republican senators.

Although Gov. McDonnell praised both parties for their increased cooperation the second time around, individual senators who remain unhappy with the new Senate map.  Sen. Ralph Smith, R-Botetourt, is one of the most outspoken about the proposed map.  If the redistricting bill is approved by the Justice Department, four Republican incumbents will be placed into two districts.  This would effectively eliminate Sen. Smith’s district and place him in the same district as Sen. Bill Stanley, R-Franklin County.  Equally as outspoken as Sen. Smith, Sen. Stanley believes that the second plan did not resolve any of the problems of the vetoed first plan.

Despite these individual disagreements, many on both sides are claiming victory with the redistricting bill.  Although this process fell far short of the separate, nonpartisan redistricting committee that Gov. McDonnell promised to support during his campaign for Governor, this new Senate map shows that Virginia’s Democrats and Republicans actually can work together.  If this step toward cooperation is a beginning rather than an end, it would be a silver lining on an otherwise cloudy and stormy redistricting process.

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