Democrats in the Virginia state Senate plan to file a map for new Congressional districts on Monday that contains significant differences from the map submitted for consideration by Republicans in the House of Delegates, two senators said Friday.
Sen. Mamie E. Locke (D-Hampton), the chair of the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus, said she will sponsor the Senate Democrats’ map, and it will include a new so-called “influence district” drawn in the Richmond area that contains a significant percentage of black voters.
That would be accomplished by shifting the 3rd Congressional district, now represented by Rep. Bobby Scott (D), to the east. As a result, the percentage of voters who are black in the 3rd Congressional district would dip, though the district would remain majority-minority.
The Voting Rights Act requires that Virginia’s new Congressional maps, drawn in response to the 2010 census, include at least one majority-minority district, as the current maps do.
But Senate Democrats believe drawing a second “influence district” would ensure black voters have the opportunity to play a role in selecting more winning candidates--and make Congressional races more competitive. Virginia’s Congressional delegation currently includes eight Republicans and three Democrats.
The black caucus had previously called for such a district to be created.
“It’s fair to say we're going to put a map out there that gives a better chance to Democratic candidates,” said Sen. Chap Petersen (D-Fairfax), who also confirmed the contours of the Senate plan. “I think settling for eight to three is unacceptable.”
Del. Bill Janis (R-Goochland) Thursday filed a plan that will be considered by the House starting on Monday. He told the Richmond Times Dispatch that he’d drawn the map after consultations with all 11 members of the delegation. Janis did not return calls Thursday or Friday.
“It looks like it’s just going to be an incumbent protection plan,” Locke said of the Janis bill. “That is not going to be acceptable, certainly not to the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus.”
Added Petersen, of the delegation’s sign-off: “That’s great. That's 11 Virginians. Only 8 million more to go.”
Locke said she will file her bill Monday, when the body returns to Richmond for a 4 p.m. scheduled session.
If the two chambers of the divided legislature adopt differing maps, the stage will be set for a legislative clash over the intensely partisan issue.
It’s not clear how vigorously the Senate will fight the House over the issue, given that Republicans outnumber Democrats in Richmond and hold the governor’s mansion.
Simply introducing and passing an alternative plan--particularly one that can be argued to strengthen the voting power of black Virginians--will strengthen the hands of those who sue over the Congressional map, a virtual inevitability.
That may be Senate Democrats’ ultimate motivation. But once the plans are adopted, the two chambers could stalemate.
“We will, in all likelihood, pass the Senate plan in the Senate. And I’m sure the House will pass theirs and send it over to us,” Locke said. “And then we’ll see.”