The new map, which would take effect in 2015, could give Republicans control of the Senate for decades. Yet it could also make it harder for McDonnell to get Democrats on board with his transportation plan, something central to the legacy-building efforts of his last year in office.
Having some black delegates on board could help reframe a hardball power play as a bipartisan accomplishment. That could enhance McDonnell’s image as a results-oriented executive who is above partisan squabbling. It also would provide cover for claims that the bill was pushed through in a way that was insulting to blacks.
Ware said he was troubled that Republicans slipped the map through the chamber on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, when Sen. Henry L. Marsh III (D-Richmond), a civil rights lawyer who decades ago argued school desegregation cases, was away at the inauguration. But he also said Marsh should have known the risks of being absent from a 20-20 chamber.
“I understand going to the inauguration, I really do. But I think if you’d have asked President Obama where he should have been, he’d have probably told him, ‘You need to be back down there protecting the interests of the people of Virginia,’ ” Ware said. “And I’m certain that Martin Luther King would have told him that. It’s too important to miss.”
After getting over the “initial shock” of the Senate action, Ware said he took a close look at the new map and liked the idea of creating a new majority-black district, something the Senate has not done since 1991. The 100-member House had added two since then.
Ware was among a group of black House members who objected to a congressional map that House Democrats drew in 2011. The map would have reduced the black vote in Democrat Rep. Robert C. “Bobby” Scott’s district, but it created a sizable African American voting bloc in another. Senate Democrats thought Scott would be safe in the new district, but Ware feared a less-established Democrat might not be able to win the seat down the road.
“We were called ‘Toms,’ ” Ware said. “It was implied that we were still enslaved mentally because we disagreed with them. Just because I’m African American, I don’t think monolithic like every African American.”
Ware has parted company with Democrats before on some issues, including charter schools, which he supports but the party generally frowns upon.
“I can’t ignore the fact that . . . black public schools aren’t faring as well as other schools,” he said. “And for me to keep supporting the same formulas, the same conditions and don’t see appreciable change, I’ve got to sometimes say to myself, ‘Onzlee, maybe you should open up your thinking.’ ”