Enough Democrats in the Virginia House of Delegates balked at following their leaders today to allow Republican Gov. John N. Dalton to sustain his veto of the latest House redistricting plan.
The House's Democratic leadership, which has come under fire from its own ranks for its handling of the nine-month attempt to redraw political boundaries to conform to the 1980 Census, could muster only 44 of the 67 votes needed in the 100-member House to override Dalton's veto.
"I didn't think it was going to be this bad," said House Majority Leader Thomas Moss of Norfolk who tried unsuccessfully to rouse the Democrats to override Dalton. "Apparently there were too many Democrats hurt by this bill," Moss said.
As a result the legislature recessed after a stormy 45-minute session, leaving an elections committee to began drawing a fourth plan. It must win approval from the the Justice Department, federal courts and the governor, who have scuttled the three earlier plans. The earliest the committee could approve a plan would be Thursday.
The biggest loser in the latest redistricting fight today may have been House Speaker A.L. Philpott of Henry County in Southside Virginia. Late last week a coalition of moderate Democrats forced the ouster of a close Philpott ally as chairman of the House Democratic Caucus and Philpott himself was reportedly only a few votes away from being dumped from his leadership post.
"I think A.L. is embarrassed right now," said Del. John Rust (R-Fairfax), who thought Democrats made a tactical mistake in trying to rally support for a redistricting bill that was unpopular with members of their own party.
Philpott, a silver-haired veteran of 24 years in the House, refused to concede today that the redistricting vote had hurt him personally or politically.
"Humiliation," said the slow-talking Philpott, who in past years has been able to effect the fate of bills by raising an eyebrow, "is a state of mind."
The House is under a federal court order to submit a new plan before Feb. 1. The court, which rejected an earlier House plan because population variances between districts were too wide, has hinted strongly that it will impose its own plan, one placing each delegate in his own separate district, if the House submits another plan that violates constitutional guarantees of equal representation.
Any new plan submitted before mid-January must survive Dalton's scrutiny. The governor, who leaves office along the with current House on Jan. 16, favors a single-member plan because Republicans are thought to have a better chances under one. Because Virginia is one of 22 states which must submit all redistricting schemes to Justice under the 1965 Voting Rights Act, the next plan will also have to be approved in Washington.
The American Civil Liberties Union, Common Cause and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People began lobbying shortly after today's session ended for a plan that would create 100 single-member districts.
Most of the elections committee members who spoke at the afternoon session indicated they favored a compromise that would allow metropolitan areas such as Northern Virginia and the Norfolk area to keep multi-member districts while redrawing the rest of the state into single-member districts.
"If they adopt multimember districts for core, urban areas, we will file suit immediately with the Justice Department," said Chan Kendrick, Director of Virginia's ACLU.
"We're starting over from scratch," sighed Del. Rust. "All those battles we fought last spring, we'll be fighting again."