State lawmakers turned their focus to the boundaries of Virginia's 11 congressional districts briefly Tuesday before heading home for a nearly two-week break.
The House of Delegates passed maps put forward by Del. Bill Janis, R-Henrico, early Tuesday, sending the proposal to the Democrat-controlled Senate. Senate Democrats then substituted their own maps and recessed until Monday, April 25.
It appears that the recess will allow lawmakers and voters time to consider a wide variety of proposals. It will also force Gov. Bob McDonnell to act on the state maps that lawmakers sent to his desk late Monday night.
McDonnell, a Republican, has seven days from when the bill clears the General Assembly to veto the maps, amend them or substitute his own plan. The legislation techically hasn't gotten to his desk because Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling, who presides over the Senate, hasn't yet signed the bill.
This week's action sets the stage for what could be brutal, partisan debate over racial progress, voting rights and political power in Virginia. It's unclear how the proposals will sit with lawyers at the U.S. Department of Justice who must green light Virginia's maps because of the state's history with racial discrimination.
This is the first time since 1961 that a Democratic administration has been in power in Washington during a redistricting session. The Voting Rights Acts of 1965 forbids "retrogression," the dilution or clustering of minority voting strength. But the act also pushes states to create opportunity districts where they can be logically built.
House Republican maps largely maintain the current boundaries of Virginia delegation, which has eight Republicans and three Democrats.
Janis told Senate Democrats that his plan was built "based on the core of the existing districts." He said he personally showed each of Virginia's 11 congressmen their new boundaries late last week.
"They each said they could support the lines as they are drawn," Janis said of the maps, which were approved by the House 71-23. "The lines don't change very much… (the plan) tries to respect the results of the last election cycle."
Meanwhile, Senate Democrats have a completely different set of maps sponsored by Sen. Mamie Locke, D-Hampton, that would create a second district with a hefty minority population. Under Locke's plan, U.S. Rep. Robert C. "Bobby Scott, D-Newport News, would see his rambling district that currently stretches from Richmond to Norfolk shrink to between Williamsburg and south Hampton Roads.
Locke said that the Senate Democrats maps keep existing members of Congress in their current districts, but would offer the state's black population more of a voice. According to the 2010 census, blacks make up more than 19 percent of the state's population, but there is only one minority-majority district out of 11.. Locke said that arrangement is unfair.
Locke said that "minority influence is diluted" by stuffing Scott's district with as many black voters as possible, a strategy derided as "packing" in gerrymandering lingo.
"Blacks and other minorities do not need overly packed districts to get elected," Locke said. She said that Janis' proposal "offers no change and give voters what they already have, an overly packed 3rd District."
Scott would lose the current minority-majority voting population that would shift into Virginia's 4th District, which is currently represented by Chesapeake Republican U.S. Rep. Randy Forbes.
Under Locke's proposal, Forbes' district would take in huge chunks of minority voters from Petersburg and Richmond and cede large parts of Chesapeake to U.S. Rep. Scott Rigell.
Rigell, R-Virginia Beach, would also add conservative voters from Poquoson and Gloucester to his Virginia Beach and Eastern Shore district.
U.S. Rep. Rob Wittman, R-Westmoreland, would maintain his rural district from Fredericksburg south, but would only represent a sliver of James City County before jumping to take in a large portion of Surry County and the town of Smithfield.
Locke said she spoke with Scott and "he was fine with the House plan but he prefers the Senate plan." Scott has been lobbying for a second so-called "opportunity district" for minority voters.Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times