Democratic legislators from Northern Virginia today proposed a radical reshaping of the region's two congressional districts to help Democrats recapture at least one of them.
Their plan, which would throw newly elected Republican Reps. Frank Wolf and Stanford Parris into a new "outer beltway" district, is part of a proposal drawn up by some populist-oriented maverick Democrats that would drastically alter most of the state's 10 congressional districts. Its proponents say the proposal would give Democrats a chance to win five House seats held by the GOP.
Northern Virginia Republicans said they were infuriated by the plan, which has shattered the bipartisan unity that the region's legislators had maintained throughout most of the reapportionment battles of the last two weeks.
"That's gerrymandering of the worst kind," said Del. Martin Perper (R-Fairfax). Added Vincent Callahan, the GOP's senior Fairfax delegate: "It would change the whole damn thing around and ghettoize our two districts for no good reason but partisan politics."
"They can't elect anybody so they're trying to reverse the results of last year's election by drawing fluky lines," fumed Parris when told of the plan.
But Democrats argued that by transforming the region into districts roughly split by the Capital Beltway, the plan more accurately reflects community differences between Washington's inner and outer suburbs. "If you came from Mars and were asked to redistrict, that's where you'd draw the lines," said Arlington Del. Mary Marshall.
Riding on Ronald Reagan's coattails, Parris and Wolf were both elected by narrow margins last fall over Democratic incumbents Herbert E. Harris and Joseph Fisher. The new proposal would put the homes of both Parris and Wolf in the same district and lodge Fisher and Harris -- both of whom are considering running again -- into an inner beltway district, which would contain predominantly Democratic Arlington and Alexandria.
Wolf and Parris both oppose the plan, Fisher and Harris are said to favor it.
Some Republicans said that even with revised districts, the Democrats would not win back the seats. "If the Democratic Party thinks they can create a safe Democratic district, they are, in the vernacular of my youth, whistling Dixie," said state Sen. Wiley F. Mitchell (R-Alexandria).
Until today, most Fairfax Democratic lawmakers had opposed the plan because they believed that while it would transform the 10th Congressional District seat, currently held by Wolf, into a Democratic stronghold, it would write off Parris' seat to the Republicans.
But the plan hammered out by Arlington Del. Warren G. Stambaugh and others includes Democratic areas such as Reston and Loudoun County's Sterling Park in the outer beltway district.
The plan's sponsors succeeded in persuading Fairfax Sen. Adelard L. Brault, dean of the county's Democratic delegation, to support it. Some argued that a conservative suburban Democrat such as Fairfax Sen. Richard Saslaw or Prince William Del. David Brickley could win the seat.
"Sure it's political," said Brault, who introduced the plan before a state Senate subcommittee today. "Redistricting happens to be a political process. I'm supposed to be partisan and I am."
Despie Brault's support, the plan faces a cloudy future. It must pass the Democratic-dominated House and Senate, both of which are controlled by conservatives who might prefer conservative Republicans to liberal Democrats in the two seats.
"Some conservative Democratic leaders in the legislature have told me they don't want Herb Harris in Congress any more than I do," said Parris.
Should the measure pass, many expect a veto from Republican Gov. John N. Dalton. "This is the most flagrant piece of veto bait we have before us," said Sen. Joseph Gartlan (D-Fairfax).
In addition to Arlington and Alexandria, the plan's "inner beltway" district would contain Falls Church and that part of Fairfax that falls within the beltway, plus parts of Fairfax's Lee and Mount Vernon magisterial districts south of the beltway. The rest of Fairfax, Fairfax City, the western part of Loudoun and all of Prince William County would be in the outer beltway district.