For the successful politician, there's no place like home. Whether a state legislator or member of Congress, any elected official who doesn't maintain close contact with the voters at home is likely to become an ex-official on election day.
That's why the question of reapportionment, affecting as it does the geographic, political and economic make up of a politician's home base, is so crucial.
"In a real sense, redistricting represents a life-and-death struggle between the haves and the have-nots of politics," says Larry Sabato, assistant political science professor at the University of Virginia and one of the state's most respected political analysts.
Sabato gave a timely primer on reappointment on the eve of the opening of the 1980-81 General Assembly last week. Timely because legislators will be wrestling with the issues for the next two years, in keeping with federal court decisions requiring states to reapportion after every federal census.
Sabato had some good news for Northern Virginia. Because of population increases, he predicted, Fairfax County is likely to add at least two, and perhaps three House seats to the 10 (including five shared with Fairfax City and Falls Church) it already has. The county also stands to add at least one senator to the five it already sends here (one is shared with Loudoun County).
All told, Sabato predicts, Northern Virginia is likely to hold 30 to 35 of the General Assembly's 140 seats, up from the 27 it now holds -- a prospect that can only increase the region's legislative influence. (Under the state Constitution, the Assembly is limited in size to 140 seats).
Sabato also held up the prospect that the assembly finally might abolish multimember House districts, such as the five-member 18th and 19th in Fairfax County, whose 10 legislators toil in virtual anonymity, partly because there are so many of them.
It's not so much that the lawmakers are disenchanted with multimember districts (although many of them are, Sabto said) but that the U.S. Justice Department probably will not approve them anymore. Justice officials believe blacks and other minorities often are shortchanged in large districts. And under the U.S. Voting Rights Act, Virginia's redistricting plan must pass muster with Justice because of the state's past record of racial discrimination at the polls.
Still, Sabato cautioned, no one should look forward to sweeping electoral changes because of redistricting. After all, since the incumbents do the carving, they're likely to make sure they have a piece for themselves.
"The record in Virginia is to pass incumbent-survival acts taking care of members of both parties," Sabato said.
One new element that may change that record, according to Sabato, is increasing GOP gains in the Assembly. Sabato concedes that Republicans picked up only five seats this year, but notes that they waged close contests in several other races. Sabato predicted that by the end of the century, the GOP is likely to control at least one house in the General Assembly -- an unprecendented event in the capital of the Old South.
Democrats are beginning to realize that they're threatened at all levels," Sabato said, suggesting that the majority party may be willing to redistrict some of their GOP colleagues out of their seats.
One likely casualty is the first woman in the Virginia Senate, Eva F. Scott (R-Amelia), whose district sprawls over eight Southside Virginia counties. Scott defeated popular incumbent James T. Edmunds in a bitter contest last fall. Edmunds has sworn he will try to unseat Scott in 1983 -- helped, no doubt, by a redistricting scheme that may bring more Democrats into the district and cut more Republicans out.
The Legislature also will be realigning the state's 10 congressional districts. Sabato said there was little hope that the state had gained enough population to warrant an 11th seat, although he said that could happen by the 1990 census.
A liberal Democrat, Sabato held out what he conceded was a faint hope that the legislature may transform the 2nd Congressional District, which encompases urban Norfolk and suburban Virginia Beach, into an urban-core district with the City of Portsmouth replacing Virginia Beach. That would give Virginians a chance to elect a black member of Congress, something Sabato believes the state, with its 20 percent black population, sorely needs.
One theme of Gov. John N. Dalton and the state GOP during the last election campaign was the fear of Democratic gerrymandering. Dalton asked voters to give him a "veto-proof" legislature -- one at least one third Republican in both houses -- so he could successfully veto any gerrymandering attempt.
He fell far short of that goal. Still, Democrats are like to use caution in playing the redistricting game. Last time, party members thought they had a good idea when they redrew the lines of the 8th Congressional District in Northern Virginia to GOP Rep. William L. Scott's district with another incumbent's district.
Scott took the hind and did not run for Congress. But the move backfired when he ran, instead, as a long-shot Senate candidate in 1972 and, to the surprise of many Democrats, soundly defeated incumbent Democrat William B. Spong.