Senate GOP Boundary Remap Met With Dismay
Hanger, Deeds Would See Districts Merge
Posted: January 23, 2013
HARRISONBURG — A sudden move by Senate Republicans on Monday to redraw legislative boundaries puts the 24th District, which includes southeastern Rockingham County, in the spotlight.
By a 20-19 party-line vote, the chamber passed a redistricting plan that includes combining Republican Sen. Emmett Hanger’s 24th District with Democratic Sen. Creigh Deeds’ 25th.
The 26th District, represented by Sen. Mark Obenshain, R-Harrisonburg, would take the part of Rockingham County that Hanger, of Mount Solon, now serves.
“It came out of the blue. It’s totally unprecedented. They came after me, personally,” said Deeds, of Bath County, by phone on Tuesday. “I don’t fear any race. I don’t fear any candidate. I’ll do what I have to do to make sure this wrong is righted.
“I’m not afraid of speaking my mind. If that makes them uncomfortable, tough.”
The proposal strengthens Republican-dominated areas while also weakening districts held by Democrats, critics say. A new black majority district in Southside Virginia is created as well.
The bill’s sponsor, Sen. John Watkins, R-Powhatan, defended the plan on Monday by noting the majority black district. He said failing to adopt the plan would invite lawsuits under the Voting Rights Act, which protects against efforts to weaken black voters’ rights.
Yet to Democrats, the move was a “premeditated party power grab,” Deeds said. Senate Republicans rolled the plan into a bill that had not been heard for 10 days, waiting for an opportunity to vote on it when numbers were in their favor, he said.
That chance came Monday, when Democratic Sen. Henry Marsh III of Richmond was away for President Barack Obama’s inauguration.
Republicans and Democrats each own 20 of the 40 seats in the Senate, but Republicans have a working majority because GOP Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling casts tie-breaking votes.
Bolling, however, has indicated he would not have voted for the redistricting.
The changes would not take effect until 2015. They still must pass the Republican-controlled House of Delegates, be signed into law by Republican Gov. Bob McDonnell and then get approval from a federal judge or the U.S. Justice Department because of the state’s history of racial discrimination.
McDonnell criticized the redistricting plan on Tuesday by telling reporters it was not a “good way to do business.” He fears that it would divide the Senate and block his priorities — mainly transportation and education initiatives — from passage in this year’s General Assembly.
“[Republicans] put in jeopardy every other major issue,” said Deeds, who lost the race for governor to McDonnell in 2009.
Democrats plan to sue if the redistricting advances, saying it contradicts the Virginia Constitution. The lines are to be adjusted every 10 years, based on when the U.S. Census is taken.
The General Assembly created new districts in 2011 following the results of the 2010 census.
“If I’m not mistaken, 2013 is not 2011 or 10 years afterward,” Deeds said.
Virginia’s U.S. senators — Democrats Mark Warner and Tim Kaine — issued a joint statement Tuesday also condemning the state Senate’s actions.
“[They] took advantage of the absence of civil rights leader Sen. Henry Marsh to push through a hyper-partisan change to Virginia’s already gerrymandered legislative district map,” they said in the statement. “This is not the way we should be conducting the people’s business in Virginia.”
Hanger and Obenshain did not return messages for comment.
Contact Preston Knight at 574-6272 or email@example.com