RICHMOND — Senate Republicans pushed a re-drawn state political map past flabbergasted Democrats on Monday, pulling off what would amount to a mid-decade redistricting of Senate lines if the plan gets approval from the House and governor and stands up to anticipated legal challenges.
The bill, approved 20 to 19, would revamp the Senate map to concentrate minority voters in a new Southside district and would change most, if not all, existing district lines. Democrats, still scrambling Monday night to figure out the impact, said they thought that the new map would make at least five districts held by Democrats heavily Republican. The map puts two sitting senators, R. Creigh Deeds (D-Bath) and Emmett W. Hanger Jr. (R-Augusta), into a single district.
Under the Virginia Constitution, the General Assembly draws new Senate and House districts once a decade, after the decennial census, in years ending in one. Legislators have tweaked the lines in off years, sometimes at the behest of registrars who discover problems such as split precincts. But this measure went far beyond the typical off-year tinkering.
The new map, which would take effect in 2015, caught Democrats and even Gov. Robert F. McDonnell (R) off guard. It was tacked onto a bill left over from last year that sought “technical adjustments” to House district boundaries, not a sweeping change in Senate lines. The measure was unveiled on the floor as a 36-page amendment. Debate was limited to 30 minutes.
The move seemed likely to reignite the partisan passions that consumed Richmond over Senate control and social issues last year — perhaps threatening transportation and education overhauls for which McDonnell has been trying to rally bipartisan support.
The action drew strong criticism from Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling (R), who decides tie votes in the Senate and would have been in a position to kill the measure if Republicans hadn’t chosen to spring it on a day when one Democrat was absent. Sen. Henry L. Marsh III (D-Richmond) was attending President Obama’s inauguration.
McDonnell spokesman Tucker Martin offered a more muted response, but one that seemed to suggest that the governor was not pleased to have redistricting supplant transportation as the talk of Richmond.