The independent bipartisan redistricting commission appointed by Gov. Bob McDonnell (R) began sifting through possible maps of new congressional and state Senate district lines Tuesday and a couple of topics that usually dominate redistricting conversations didn’t even come up.
The group, which includes professors, judges, lawyers and citizen activists, didn’t mention strengthening districts for one party or the other. And not once did they name a current politician now serving in office and how he or she would be affected by the changes they might propose.
That’s why there was something notable in the first draft of new congressional maps proposed by two demographers working with the commission.
In one of the two maps, three sitting Republican congressmen would find themselves running in 2012 in districts where they don’t currently live: U.S. Reps. H. Morgan Griffith, Randy Forbes and Frank Wolf.
The other map redistricted out those three Republicans and added a fourth: House Majority Leader Eric Cantor.
That somehow seems unlikely.
“That’s just one approach,” said George Mason University professor Michael McDonald after presenting the plan he drew up in which the powerful Cantor no longer lived in his 7th district, as laughter peeled through the room.
After the presentation, McDonald, an expert on redistricting who has served as a consultant on the topic in seven states, said he’d drawn the map relying only on criteria that McDonnell has asked his commission to examine. Those include respecting “communities of interest,” drawing compact and contiguous districts and complying by the strictures of the 1965 Voting Rights Act.
Indeed, those were the topics of conversation that dominated the commission’s conversation--and might help explain why the General Assembly has been so hesitant to entirely turn over redistricting to a bipartisan commission like this one.
McDonnell’s commission is entirely advisory. By the time it formally makes recommendations to the General Assembly, the political parties will likely have already settled on the maps they intend to push for adoption in April.
McDonald and Weldon Cooper policy associate Dustin Cable, who also presented maps for consideration, recommended starting any redistricting process by drawing an appropriate number of majority-minority districts. Next, they said a map-maker should draw other districts to accommodate those seats.
In Congress, that means drawing at least one majority-minority district, so the state does not slide backwards in terms of minority representation. Currently, the majority of the voting age population of the 3rd District, represented by U.S. Rep. Bobby Scott (D), is black.
Those guidelines also mean drawing at least five majority-minority districts in the state Senate and likely 12 in the House of Delegates.
The group then discussed other issues, including whether Roanoke should be included in a southwest Virginia congressional district or one that stretches along the Shenandoah valley. And whether Northern Virginians consider their county and city affiliation to be their “community of interest” or if they identify more broadly identify along economic and regional lines.
They agreed to solicit input from the public on those questions and others at a series of public hearings to be held around on the state--on March 11 at 2 p.m. at the Capitol in Richmond , on March 14 at 7 p.m. at Virginia Western Community College in Roanoke, on March 15 at 7 p.m. at George Mason University in Fairfax and on March 21 at 7 p.m. at Norfolk State University.
After the presentation, Christopher Newport University professor Quentin Kidd, who is staffing the commission, acknowledged the politicians who run redistricting may not be likely to adopt maps like the ones commission examined Tuesday, given the dramatic impact they would have on incumbents.
In fact, he said, “that’s the point.”
He said the public should find it useful to compare and contrast maps drawn up without politics in mind--and those that are ultimately adopted by the General Assembly.
“The political establishment is what it is,” he said. “This is to educate the public on what districts could look like and what the process could be like.”