A key Virginia House committee moved today toward resolving the impasse that earlier this month blocked approval of a congressional redistricting plan.
Whether the full House will be willing to follow the lead of the House Privileges and Election Committee and approve the plan at a special session opening at noon tomorrow will be another test for the assembly's leadership.
Members of the committee, with the obvious blessing of the leadership, today approved by a 14-to-4 vote a plan that makes only minor changes in Northern Virginia's two congressional district and is generally believed favorable to most incumbents.
Many of the House's younger Democrats have rallied around a more partisan plan that the committee rejected today. Their plan, called the "Jefferson Plan" in honor of the Democratic Party's founder, is aimed at ousting some of the state's nine Republican congressmen.
It would throw Republican Reps. Frank Wolf and Stanford Parris into the same district and would split the Washington suburbs in an effort to create a district inside the Capital Beltway that would be likely to elect a Democrat.
But senior Democrats today sent a message to the group that they want to see the redistricting decided in a non partisan manner, apparently because the Jefferson plan has been branded "blatant gerrymandering" by Republicans.
"Under this plan my area would lose a congressman and I'm not going to be a party to that," said Senate Majority Leader Hunter B. Andrews, a Hampton Democrat and the Jefferson plan's leading critic. "It has nothing to do with my being a Democrat or a Republican."
His comment brought a sharp retort from Del. Johnny Joannou (D-Portsmouth), a populist who has been the plan's chief advocate. "We have 100 dependent thinkers so one man can't think for all of them," he said.
Earlier this month the legislators left Richmond after redrawing boundaries for their own legislative districts, but deadlocking over how the state's 10 congressional districts should be shaped.The legislature must redraw the districts to conform with results of the 1980 Census.
House elections committee chairman John Gray (D-Hampton), today expressed hope that the newly approved plan will effectively torpedo the Jefferson proposal by preserving the current congressional boundaries in Northern Virginia. Legislators from Northern Virginia are divided over the plan, which is, not unexpectedly, opposed by the large Republican delegation from Fairfax County.
"We've shut off the breaking up of the 10th," Gray said, referring to the proposed preservation of Wolf's district. It includes Arlington, Northern Fairfax, and Loudoun counties as well as the cities of Fairfax and Falls Church and contains almost one 10th of the state's population -- close to the "ideal" population for a Virginia congressional district.
But Del. Jerry H. Giesler (R-Carroll) questioned whether the remaining disputed districts could imperil the plan approved today. "Aren't you just locking yourself into a domino effect?" he said. "You can't move anywhere if you don't retain your flexibility."
Separately, the Senate's election committee voted 5 to 4 to send to the full Senate a plan that leaders say generally agrees with the House plan on half on the districts. Gray and Andrews predicted that, with luck, the issue could be resolved by Thursday.
Meanwhile, Joannou said he was untroubled by reports that Republican Gov. John N. Dalton would veto his plan. "If the worry is that the government is going to veto it, then that argument says it's okay for him to veto a bill on the basis of partisan politics," Joannou said. "If he can do it, why can't we?"