Probably the biggest loser in the Virginia Republicans' redistricting plan was Sen. Leslie L. Byrne (D-Fairfax), whose 34th District was reconfigured without her home in it. Here's her reaction to the plan.
Redistricting is an inherently political process. But under a host of laws, it cannot be solely a political process. That is why many believe the Virginia Republicans may have "crossed the line" in their redistricting plans.
Senate and delegate districts must reflect changes in population (one person -- one vote). Districts should also be compact and contiguous, reflect communities of interest and not disadvantage voters in selecting their elected officials. Most important, the process must be a public one, where citizens are given a fair chance to be heard. On most of these points of law, the Republican plan misses the mark.
There is a strong case to be made that the Republican redistricting plan has Balkanized Virginia in order to reach their political goals. Their plan has made a mockery of communities of interest, it is not compact and contiguous and they have engaged in diluting the influence of minority voters. Most interestingly, they have singled out elected women to bear the brunt of their machinations. Yes Virginia, there is such a thing as gender gerrymandering.
This last point is new to the redistricting debate because traditionally Virginia has not had enough women legislators to form an identifiable block. These are the facts: Of the eight women who serve in the Senate, five Democrats had their districts drastically altered. None of these districts needed to be changed to lose or gain population to meet traditional redistricting guidelines.
Sen. Emily Couric, from the Charlottesville area, saw her district shoved to the West Virginia border. Sen. Toddy Puller, from the Mount Vernon area, will now have most of her district in Prince William County. Sen. Patsy Ticer, former mayor of Alexandria, now has the majority of her district in Arlington and Fairfax counties. Sen. Mary Margaret Whipple, former chair of the Arlington County Board, lost a large part of her Arlington base only to be expanded into Fairfax.
The current 34th District of central Fairfax County and City, which I am proud to represent, will cease to exist in 2003, only to be reconstituted to cover two congressional districts, six magisterial districts, nine school pyramids, a city and a town. The current 34th District has less than 1 percent population deviation from the ideal Senate district (176,963 people), as does the proposed scheme for the 34th.
For those who say "it is only party politics," I offer this statistic: Excluding minority districts, the Democratic women of the Senate had their district changed on average 45 percent, the Democratic men of the Senate had their districts changed on average 34 percent, and Republican white males (they only come in one flavor in the Senate) had their districts changed 20 percent.
One needs only to look to Richmond to understand what happens to women of either party who stand up to the male power structure. Del. Panny Rhodes (R), who stood up to Gov. James Gilmore (R) on a number of issues and faced a primary challenge for her efforts, found her district stretched beyond recognition.
It isn't just the voice of women that this redistricting plan attempts to silence. While population grew in Northern Virginia, its power has been fractured. With Fairfax County's population approaching a million people, it was entitled to five full Senate seats. Under the Republican plan, Fairfax only has three full Senate seats. The remaining partial Fairfax senate districts are split between the city of Alexandria and Arlington, Prince William and Loudoun counties.
The last legislative session's debate on a sales tax referendum shows that localities do have different communities of interests. Urban areas wanted more transit funding, suburbs were as concerned with education funding as transportation and exurbs were more focused on just transportation funding.
In fact, this proposed plan deliberately splits counties and cities down to the precinct level. Just one of many examples: The historic African American community of Gum Springs in Fairfax County has been split in two. Representatives of this community showed up at sham public hearings to implore the powers that be not to be split. The Republicans weren't listening then; they aren't listening now. Perhaps they will have to listen to the courts.
Sen. Leslie L. Byrne (D)