The likely outcome would be to elect a sixth black senator but also to diminish the overall power of Democrats in the now evenly split Senate.
“Here’s an opportunity where I can actually have a great impact on African Americans, yet at the same time, it doesn’t help the entire Democratic Party,” Ware said. “Should I always have to forgo the interests of black people for the good of the party? . . . I have a real dilemma on my hands right now.”
Like Ware, Dance took exception to how Republicans rammed the measure through the Senate last week, capitalizing on the absence of a Democrat who was in Washington for President Obama’s inauguration. Taking up legislation calling for minor “technical adjustments” to House district boundaries, they amended it without public notice to revamp all 40 Senate districts.
“I don’t like the process,” Dance said. “But the irony of ironies is, it’s going to be hard for us [to vote against the plan] as African Americans because they create a minority seat.”
Sen. L. Louise Lucas (D-Portsmouth) was angry to hear from a reporter that some fellow members of the black caucus would consider voting for the plan, which could come up for a vote in the House on Thursday.
“I’m hot as a pot of fish grease about this,” she said. “I’m hoping that they’re not going to be so naive as to bite that bait.”
Some Democrats questioned whether the black delegates open to the map were angling for better committee assignments from Howell or eyeing the Senate district.
“Maybe you need to inquire if those persons are running for the district,” said Del. Delores L. McQuinn (D-Richmond).
Support from some black delegates — Ware said there were more but declined to give names — could make it easier for McDonnell and Howell as they decide how to respond to the map. Their votes would represent a measure of bipartisan backing and perhaps defuse some of the racial overtones surrounding how the plan was unfurled.
“I’ve basically talked with African American members of the House,” Ware said. “They’re just as conflicted as I am.”
On Jan. 21, Republicans sprang a plan that they said would correct gerrymandered districts that Democrats pushed through when they controlled the Senate two years ago. Senate Democrats have called it an unconstitutional power grab.
The redistricting map surprised McDonnell and Howell as much as Democrats. Both are in a position to single-handedly kill it: Howell with a procedural move and McDonnell with a veto.