RICHMOND — Del. Jerry Mandering pledges to redraw Virginia House district boundaries to eliminate competition, deny voting rights and undermine democracy — and he couldn’t be happier about it.
The fictional delegate is the brainchild of the redistricting reform group OneVirginia2021 that commissioned a spoof campaign ad to raise awareness about elected officials who it says unfairly manipulate the political process.
The practice is called gerrymandering. Get it?
“It’s funny because it’s true,” Executive Director Brian Cannon said. “Jerry is an absurd character, but he seeks to highlight the absurd process we have in Virginia for redistricting.”
The satirical look at the reality of elections in Virginia and many other states is part of a national effort to reduce the influence of politics on redistricting — a once-a-decade process following the U.S. census.
The bipartisan OneVirginia2021 is funding a lawsuit challenging 11 legislative districts that they say too easily protect incumbents.
Democrats prevailed in a lawsuit over U.S. congressional districts that argued lawmakers illegally packed minority voters in a few districts at the expense of their influence elsewhere. Republicans won a similar suit over a dozen House of Delegates districts.
About a dozen bills have also been filed in the current legislative session to shift the redistricting process to an independent commission. Similar bills made it out of the Senate last year but stalled in the House.
Republicans say the current process has worked for 400 years and independent redistricting commissions are not free of political influence. They point to the fact that the House holds more than a dozen seats in districts won by President Obama as proof that elections are fair.
In Virginia, the ad notes, all of the 140 incumbent delegates and senators who were seeking reelection won their races in November, supporting the reform group’s position that district boundaries leave little room for general election competition.
Instead, the situation encourages candidates from both parties to appeal to the most conservative and liberal extremes, which advocates blame for bringing Washington-style gridlock and polarization to Richmond.
In the ad, a smiling Del. Mandering says he’ll bring “change and hope or whatever” by “picking my voters and redrawing district lines to ensure I always get reelected.”
He pledges to listen to new ideas — while feeding a constituent letter into a paper shredder — and promises to work tirelessly for their causes — while swinging a golf club. He even pushes a line striper down the middle of a suburban street to separate houses on each side into different districts.
His campaign slogan? “Del. Jerry Mandering: Your Representative, Probably.”