Redistricting likely to shift congressional power to Northern Virginia

By Ben Pershing
Sunday, March 20, 2011; 4:58 AM

Explosive population growth in Northern Virginia is sending political shock waves through the state's congressional delegation, with several Virginia lawmakers running next year in districts strikingly different from those they currently represent.

With the results in from the 2010 Census, the General Assembly will meet in a special session next month to draw new lines for state legislative districts as well as Virginia's 11 congressional seats. Republicans control the House of Delegates and the governor's mansion, and Democrats hold the state Senate, meaning the two parties will have to compromise on a map.

Though the process is in its beginning stages, lawmakers and political operatives in both parties agree that the new congressional map is likely to make two districts safer for the incumbents - Rep. Gerald E. Connolly's (D) 11th and Rep. Frank R. Wolf's (R) 10th - while effectively moving another district, Rep. Rob Wittman's (R) 1st, up into the Washington suburbs.

That shift will increase Northern Virginia's clout on Capitol Hill as the region fights to secure federal funding for transportation and other projects at a time of budget austerity, and it will maintain a long-standing trend in Virginia politics, said Mark J. Rozell, a professor of public policy at George Mason University.

"I think we've seen over the past couple of decades a steady erosion of dominance by downstate legislators both in Richmond and on Capitol Hill," Rozell said.

Increased clout on the Hill will be especially important for Northern Virginia, which relies on money from Uncle Sam for everything from the Dulles rail extension and highway improvements to the Pentagon and the federal contracting industry. Tens of thousands of government employees live in the region.

"Northern Virginia is always going to depend very heavily on what's happening in the federal government, disproportionately so, compared to the downstate districts," Rozell noted.

Equal tug-of-war

The current congressional delegation split is eight Republicans and three Democrats, after the GOP picked up three seats in 2010. While Republicans might want to pick off another seat and Democrats are eager to regain lost territory, the new map could disappoint both sides.

Mike Whatley, a redistricting expert at the Rose Institute of State and Local Government at Claremont McKenna College in California, wrote an extensive analysis of Virginia last month noting that "because neither party has complete control, neither can draw districts exactly how it wants."

"A more likely possibility," Whatley wrote, "is that leaders of both parties will realize that they are unlikely to create a map that would give them more seats and will instead attempt to protect their current incumbents."

The statewide series of dominoes begins in Loudoun County, whose population grew by 84 percent in the past decade. Prince William County had the second-largest growth in the state at 43 percent.

That growth, combined with population losses in southern portions of the state, means that northern districts will have to get geographically smaller and southern ones bigger.

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