Yesterday, the State Senate by a vote of 22-18 passed Senate Joint Resolution 352 sponsored by Sen. Creigh Deeds (D-Warm Springs). The bill now goes to the House. Its passage opens the door for a potential new era in political redistricting in Virginia — an era where community interests will actually matter.
Like election-eve robo-calls and attack ads with grainy footage, political gerrymandering is an annoying side note in American democracy. Every ten years (or every year if you live in Texas), the majority party leadership bolsters its power by “doubling up” opposing incumbents, “packing” minority voters in a single district or “bullet-proofing” their own sweet-heart districts.
The Republicans did it in 2001. The Democrats did it in the decades before that. Nobody is blameless.
The high-minded excuse is that incumbency is itself important and society would be bereft if the same power brokers are not recycled every ten years. Most voters don’t care enough to protest, and so the process continues in the same cynical fashion.
Lately, this age-old practice is being challenged by reform-minded legislatures. For example, in Iowa a non-partisan commission now draws the Congressional districts. As a result, there are no “safe seats.” Each party and each candidate must get out their message (and their vote) each election cycle or else risk defeat.
The Deeds bill would set up a 13-member commission with representation from the two largest political parties. A thirteenth member would then be added by agreement in order to break ties. The independent commission would be charged with drawing all legislative districts from the standpoint of contiguity, compactness and community of interests. Any legal challenges to the plan would bypass the legislature and go to the state Supreme Court.
It takes some guts for a member of the current majority to vote for this plan. Congrats to those “R’s” in the Senate that did so. It is time for a new and better way in Virginia. Now, about those robo-calls …