Virginia legislative leaders today predicted that their latest plan to redraw their House districts will sail through the General Assembly in one or two days, even though they derided parts of the proposal as preposterous and illogical.
The plan, drafted this week in an effort to satisfy Justice Department objections, creates one new district in Norfolk with two Democratic incumbents and only about 6,000 voters--far less than the state's officially cited ideal district of about53,000. Black groups told a legislative hearing here today that the plan also would do little to increase black political clout in the state, the issue that has been the Justice Department's objection to previous redistricting plans.
"What we're involved with right now is not what our best judgment requires; it's not what our logic says," said Del. Ted Morrison (D-Newport News), "but it's apparently what the law requires."
The new proposal is the latest in a long series of House plans to be considered during a year-long redistricting process that many legislators say has become a fiasco, costing taxpayers more than $1 million. In 13 special sessions, the legislature has adopted five separate redistricting plans for the 100-member House that have been rejected by gubernatorial veto, a federal court, or the Justice Department.
The new plan provoked the same charges of "racial gerrymandering" from civil rights groups that torpedoed two of the earlier plans with Justice. "It's preposterous that this committee would even be considering this plan," said Gwendolyn Jackson, a lawyer representing the Norfolk chapter of the NAACP.
Jackson argued that the plan splits the largest black voting precinct in Norfolk. She said that one of the two supposedly "black" districts proposed for the city would not contain enough black voters to defeat a white incumbent, even though its population is 61 percent black.
"This dilutes black voting strenth," Jackson said. "It is worse than the plan just rejected by the Justice Department."
Despite the criticism, House elections committee chairman Del. Claude W. Anderson (D-Buckingham) said he expects the plan to be passed routinely at Thursday's special session and to be approved by the Justice Department.
"There's no way you can ever draw up a plan that can please everybody," he said. "But I've talked to Justice, and I think I know what they want. In my opinion, this will pass their test."
Probably the heaviest criticism of the plan came from legislators who ridiculed one of the new Norfolk districts that is the home of two Democratic incumbents, Dels. George Heilig and Edythe Harrison. The new district includes the Norfolk Naval Base, but includes only about 6,000 registered Norfolk voters.
"Isn't that crazy?" said Del. Mary Marshall (D-Arlington). "How can you have a district with only 6,000 voters?"