“In my opinion the Republican members of the Senate acted boldly and justifiably in re-adjusting the Senate districts,” Stewart said in a prepared statement.
Without notice Monday, Senate Republicans took up a bill that had called for minor “technical adjustments” to House district lines and amended it on the floor so that it changed lines for all 40 Senate seats. The bill created a new majority-black district but also made at least eight other districts more heavily Republican.
Democrats are calling it a power grab, one that they contend runs afoul of the state constitution, which says redistricting takes place every 10 years, after the census, in years ending in 1. Republicans say they are merely correcting for the gerrymandered districts that they say Democrats, led by Sen. George Barker (D-Fairfax), pushed through two years ago.
“The plan drawn by Sen. Barker in 2011 was a confusing mess and a clear-cut example of partisan gerrymandering,”Stewart’s statement said. “Not only does the proposed plan help enhance Virginia’s compliance with the Voting Rights Act, but it also mitigates Sen. Barker’s egregious districts.
“I can specifically speak to how awful the Democrats’ plan, which is currently in place, has impacted Prince William County. Like many other counties, cities, and towns in Virginia, we are currently carved up like a Thanksgiving turkey. The county is split into five different Senate districts, four of which are centered in other jurisdictions. The 425,000 residents of Prince William County, who by their numbers are entitled to more than two full senate districts, are represented by only one senator who is a county resident. This new plan also corrects split precincts, which have caused significant confusion among voters.”
Bolling opposed the plan, saying it would set a bad precedent and stir up so much partisan rancor that legislators would be distracted from transportation and other priorities of the 45-day session.
Since Republicans could not count on Bolling to split a tie vote in their favor in the evenly divided Senate, they had to wait for a day when a Democrat was absent to present the plan. They did so on Monday, when Sen. Henry L. Marsh III (D-Richmond) was away to attend President Obama’s inauguration.
Had Stewart been lieutenant governor, he said, Republicans would not have had to worry about a tie vote.
Stewart said had he been presiding over the Senate, “I would have supported this plan and used my position to advocate for it.”
Stewart and Martin are two of seven Republicans running to succeed Bolling, who is mulling an independent bid for governor and not seeking reelection.
The others are former delegate Jeannemarie Devolites Davis; Del. L. Scott Lingamfelter of Prince William County; Susan Stimpson, chairwoman of the Stafford County Board of Supervisors; Pete Snyder, a technology entrepreneur; and E.W. Jackson, a Chesapeake minister who ran unsuccessfully for the GOP nomination in this year’s U.S. Senate race.
In a radio interview this week, Davis also spoke favorably about the redistricting move.
Snyder has said he does not think redistricting should be a priority for this General Assembly session.