We are members of the Virginia Commonwealth Caucus, a bipartisan group of Virginia senators and delegates who are looking to find common ground on important issues and foster a service-focused culture in Virginia’s General Assembly. We are a diverse group of legislators from many ethnic, economic, religious and racial backgrounds who share the belief that our communities and commonwealth deserve better politics, focused on solutions, and that Virginia should rise above and set an example in a time of deep national political strife.
We all believe that our current political climate is at odds with the wishes of most Virginians — and most Americans — who themselves don’t believe that any party or individual has a monopoly on good ideas. It would seem odd that the political climate of our commonwealth would fail to reflect the will of our citizens. That is until one realizes that politicians themselves have been gerrymandering political districts focused far more on reelection than providing a voice to all Virginians.
That’s why we all support an independent redistricting process in which elected officials like us don’t play a role. In our communities, which span nearly the entire commonwealth, we have heard time and again that this is what most Virginians want as well.
As the General Assembly comes to a close, Virginia has a historic opportunity to fundamentally move away from the partisan gerrymandering of the past. We have a chance to pass a constitutional amendment that provides strong protections for both the majority and minority parties. That amendment could then be reviewed and, we hope, approved by Virginia voters this November. Critically, the amendment would be accompanied by legislation that ensures the redistricting commission that the amendment creates has strong protections for communities of color and of different backgrounds. The commission would be required to hold its meetings in public so all citizens can have a voice in redistricting.
We understand that, as with most legislation, the constitutional amendment and redistricting commission legislation are the result of many compromises, and, individually, we all have thoughts on how to make it better. But any shortcomings are significantly outweighed by the positives of the amendment and redistricting commission legislation. This legislation would ensure a diverse group of commissioners. It would establish good anti-gerrymandering criteria for drawing districts that would include preserving “communities of interest” and would ensure that members of racial and linguistic minorities are represented. It would ensure that on a statewide basis legislative districts don’t favor one party over another.
While there are other proposals before the General Assembly that might address redistricting, all face the challenge that they don’t enjoy broad, bipartisan support, nor do they provide voters with the constitutional protection against legislators rolling back this reform in the future. As a result, they would be looked at skeptically by the public.
The constitutional amendment and redistricting commission would establish the clearest, fairest and least political mechanism for drawing fair districts in Virginia’s 400-year legislative history. We are urging our colleagues of both parties to support it and for members of the public to let all of us know that after 400 years of Virginia politicians drawing districts to serve their own political interests, all Virginians are ready for a new way of doing business.