A nasty redistricting fight has surfaced in the Commonwealth of Virginia, just ahead of a contentious 2012 fight for Congress and the White House.
At stake is the state’s 3rd Congressional district, currently held by Rep. Robert C. Scott. His district is solidly African American, but set to see an even larger increase of Blacks once the redrawn Republican maps are final.
Virginia Republicans have been accused of “packing” the district – meaning they have included precincts in the redrawn maps that have historically voted for Democrats. Particularly in the 3rd district, these precincts are predominately Black. The end result is going to cause the district to have 60 percent Black voters in a state where those voters make up one-fifth of the population.
In short, all of the Black folks in Virginia do not live in between Richmond and Newport News. Yet, they are the only ones that have a representative in Washington, D.C. that looks like them in the 13-member Congressional delegation.
As the 2012 race for Congress and the White House shapes up, gerrymandering fights have played out in statehouses across the country. The issue has tied into the larger problem of coordinated voter suppression efforts that have also been linked to GOP-friendly groups. Districts that are shaped specifically for a certain type of voter turnout can inherently suppress the will of voters in that state. In Virginia’s case, Black voters have received the short end of the stick because they trend toward Democratic candidates.
Minority delegates in the Virginia General Assembly, the body responsible for redistricting, are speaking out to make sure the larger Black population of the state has their voices heard as well.
“We ought to have more than one minority member of Congress,” Del. Jennifer McClellan, an African American Democrat from Richmond, told The Washington Post.
“This bill will not allow minorities in any district but the 3rd to elect the candidate of their choice,” she added.
“Redistricting is something that needs to be done right because we have a history in Virginia of not doing the right thing for nefarious reasons,” she said referring to the state’s troubled racial past.
Calling out racism may be the easy reaction to the Virginia Republicans redistricting plan. It’s not out of the realm of possibility.
However, it seems to be more an issue of conservatives being in power and gerrymandering districts to keep them safely in their hands. They want to please the interests of their voting bloc and want to make sure their voice is heard loudest in Virginia politics in Richmond and Washington, D.C.
If Democrats took both houses of the Virginia General Assembly, we would most likely see the same result in reverse. It’s part of the game called politics and Democrats can’t say it they haven’t done the same before.
Virginia’s Governor Robert McDonnell also plays a role in the gerrymandering fight and larger issue of GOP domination in the state. As governor, he will sign off on the final redistricting maps that come out of the General Assembly. McDonnell is also positioning himself as a possible vice presidential candidate - whomever the final GOP nominee is. His new position as chairman of the Republican Governors Association is affording him more spotlight, too.
Let’s not forget that Virginia was a key state that launched President Obama into the White House in 2008. The historically red state opted for more liberal politics that year and a change from two terms of President George W. Bush. So nationally, observers are focusing more on Virginia to see if President Obama even has a chance there.
Still, Virginia Democrats get some credit for standing up against current gerrymandering efforts. Would Republicans have obliged had they found themselves in a similar position? With the state being one-fifth African American, it’s hard justifying why many Black voters are being drawn solely into the 3rd Congressional district. It’s understandably a minority heavy area of Virginia, but there could easily be others, particularly in the northern section of the state near Washington.
Whatever the reasoning, the new maps must still be reviewed by the Department of Justice following approval by McDonnell. Officials at the Justice Department have to ensure that they are compliant with the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
This is yet another classic example of lawmakers who usually work faster to keep their jobs than doing the actual work. They are all consistent, if nothing else.