Home Virginia Politics Former Arlington County Democratic Chair: Saslaw/Whipple Redistricting Plan “should be repudiated”

Former Arlington County Democratic Chair: Saslaw/Whipple Redistricting Plan “should be repudiated”


The following is a guest post from 2-term Arlington County Democratic Committee chair Peter Rousselot. In addition, Peter ran for DPVA Chair last year, although unfortunately he was not victorious. Anyway, thanks to Peter for his thoughts on the Democratic Senate redistricting plan. Let’s hope this kicks off a much-needed discussion!

The Saslaw/Whipple Senate Democratic Caucus redistricting plan should be repudiated. You can check out their plan here.

The Saslaw/Whipple plan should be repudiated because it is the product of top down, hierarchical, dictatorial planning designed to protect individual incumbent Democratic Senators behind a supposed “firewall” to preserve a Democratic majority in the Virginia State Senate. This “planning” is bad policy and bad politics. The general public and editorial writers across the Commonwealth have the common sense to realize that this process is decidedly un-democratic.

Has the Republican majority in the House of Delegates done any better? Of course not! Their re-districting plan for the House of Delegates is just as bad or worse. So what? As Democrats, why should we join them in a race to the bottom? Why not strive for something better–and more effective too? Instead, we are cringing while our supposed Democratic leaders are bragging about being just as, or more devious than, Virginia Republicans.

What’s wrong with this picture?

The Senate Democratic Caucus plan was developed based on a long standing, but fundamentally flawed, perception of the right way to maximize the chances to elect as many Democrats as possible in Virginia. There is no question that one core mission of the Democratic Party of Virginia (DPVA) is to elect as many Democrats as possible in every general election.

However, DPVA ought to have no stake whatsoever in insuring (in between general elections) that any particular incumbent Democratic elected official gets to keep his or her current job. Instead, Democratic leaders ought to be working 24/7/365 to strengthen the grassroots of the Democratic Party so that any Democrat’s chances to win anywhere and everywhere are maximized. If incumbent Democratic elected officials want to retain the support of the Democratic grass roots, they should keep doing things to earn that support. If they do, they will richly deserve re-election.

What should be done now?

The Senate Democratic Caucus leadership loudly argues that we all have to hurry up and approve its respective incumbent protection plan. There’s no time to waste, they’ll say, because the necessary DOJ review of their plan will be time-consuming, and we have to get all this done in time for the August 23 primary date.

Don’t be fooled by their scare tactics. There is plenty of time to scrap both the Senate Democratic Caucus plan and the House Republican caucus plan, and instead to adopt one of the non-partisan re-districting plans developed by Virginia’s college and university students.

And you know what? If our legislators need more time to hold hearings in order to consider and adopt one of these non-partisan re-districting plans, there is an easy way for them to do it: all our Democratic incumbents and candidates can run in the current districts in 2011, and then in the new districts in 2012. Virginians have done this before in 1981 and 1982, and we can do it again.

Our new district boundaries have to last for ten years. How do you want to spend those ten years: living in hyper-partisan-drawn districts or living in districts drawn with the public’s welfare uppermost in mind? Wouldn’t it be worth one extra year of waiting in order to get the best result for the next 10 years?

How can you help?

Contact your State Senator and let tell her/him how you feel about this situation. Also, go to one of the few public forums which have been scheduled about these plans, and tell the Virginia Legislature to go back to the drawing board and start over. You can see a list of these public forums here.

  • pontoon

    adoption of one of the College plans and/or look at the Governor’s Bi-partisan Commission’s plan.  What has been offered up by our elected leaders is ridiculous!

  • Jason

    These district lines are indefensible.  Kudos to Peter for speaking out.

  • Johnny Longtorso

    Due to the way Democratic voters are clustered into urban areas while Republican voters are spread out, Democrats are at a natural disadvantage when it comes to drawing “clean” lines. Is it democratic to have compact districts that will only elect 15 or 16 Democratic Senators when the state is split 50/50? Yes, the commission maps may look better, but they would be worse at representing the partisan balance of the state. It might give Democrats more seats in the House, but Democrats would probably be plunged into a permanent 55-45 minority in both chambers.

    It’s facile to say that “compact = better” when it would result in a bunch of 80-20 Democratic seats and 60-40 Republican seats. The only way you’re going to get truly representative delegation is through a system of proportional representation, but unfortunately U.S. law would probably not allow that (due to “one man, one vote”).  

  • NotJohnSMosby

    A call to take the high road – and lose.  Will someone please tell Dems like this that we tried that route for 40 years and all it led to was losses.  Republicans don’t give a crap about fairness.  They want control.  If you want to play nice when they aren’t, you’re going to end up losing. They’re not going to change, in fact, they’ve been getting progressively worse over the last 40+ years.  They’re not going to suddenly wake up and say “we’ve been morally and intellectual wrong for several generations and we’re coming clean today”.  They’re not going to learn.  Every Republican who reads Peter’s quote – “As Democrats, why should we join them in a race to the bottom? Why not strive for something better–and more effective too?” – smiled and laughed and said “now there’s a wimpy Democrat for you”.

    The world is not Arlington.  You’re not going to “be effective” anytime soon by throwing a little bit of money at newbie candidates out in the hinterlands and expecting them to win seats for Dems.  All the while, you keep a seat in Arlington that’s 80% Democratic when just across the border there are precincts that lean Republican.  

    I’m not in this for righteous indignation.  I don’t feel better losing but “knowing I played fair”.  Republicans will not accept a bi-partisan approach.  It’s a non-starter.  

    Here’s a post I wrote on NLS last night.  I actually feel more strongly about it his morning:

    “As for Ben’s worries about Arlington and Alexandria become hotbeds of Republican activity, while I don’t agree with the way they move around the 31st and 32nd, it does unpack the Democratic districts a little bit. The 30th gets redder – using VPAPs numbers, from a whopping 36.9% for Bob to a scary 41%. The 31st is even more of a move, from 34.7% to 44%. Still, fairly safe Dem districts and those numbers are the worst-case Deeds Disaster performance numbers for Republicans. The 30th and 31st aren’t as massively blue as they were, but unlocking them helps out Mark Herring, George Barker, Dave Marsden.

    I think Ben’s just upset that Arlington is split 3 ways. Over on Blue Virginia there was a heated argument a few weeks ago where the Arlington guys were crying over the thought that Arlington and Alexandria may have to pitch in and help out the districts further out by taking on some Republican areas. Hey, it’s called taking one for the team.

    If an election comes and Arlington and Alexandria are either so apathetic no one votes or the vote Republican, the state will be lost cause already.

    This will just mean that the Arlington and Alexandria committees will have to work hard on the state campaigns from now on. The districts are safe but no longer invincible and to be honest, Alexandria Dems need to get their act together. They were horrible with the C. Herring special election where they didn’t even organize anything for the election, and they were lazy during those city elections where the Republicans only put two candidates on the ballot and only voted for those two and undervoted for the other seats. Next time, but exactly the number of Dems on the ballot for the number of seats and stop treating elections like guaranteed Democratic victories for all candidates.”

    So again, Peter and the Arlington crew are upset because they won’t have complete control over Senate seat that is practically impossible for a Republican to ever win.  Now, they’ll have to actually work with their neighbors in the suburbs to win those seats.  It’s dumb politics for Dems to pack ourselves into 100% safe fortress districts that would number well under the 21 seats needed to control the Senate.  Especially when we really need 23 or 24, since we’ll always have a rural Dem or two who will vote against us on issues like abortion or coal or guns or gays.  

  • clark

    I’ll have a longer post up on my diary page soon about elections, primaries, and the role of local committees, though if you happen to live in Alexandria, or want to touch base to talk strategy, etc. I’d love to hear from you. My email is scmercer@gmail.com In addition to our own races this fall, Alexandria and Arlington Committees have put together a joint effort to focus on 1-2 competitive/close Senate races outside our jurisdictions to help keep the Senate Democratic. I certainly think learning from past experiences is important, and I want to do that, with an eye towards building for the future. Also, towards that end, and I’ll post something on this soon, the ADC is going to host a Candidates School starting Wed., April 27 and it will run the last Wed. of the month for 6 months for anyone- in Alexandria or not- that has even the slightest interest in running for office as a Democrat in the future. Got some good feedback and interest at the joint DPVA-OFA training at George Mason this past weekend from folks outside of Alexandria who plan to attend these trainings. At any rate, wanted to make sure that just because I (and others) don’t post as often as others, that we’re aren’t listening and aren’t trying to improve things.

    -Clark Mercer

    Chair, Alexandria Democratic Committee

  • MRiles

    at showing what they think the map should look like, this makes it pretty easy: http://www.gardow.com/davebrad

    I don’t think its perfect, but I don’t think its terrible either.

    Even though communities of interest, etc. might be laudable goals, that should be balanced against the risk of this state turning into another Wisconsin if Dems don’t hold the Senate.

    Also, did House Dems not even bother to create a plan?

  • drobertson

    I would much rather have everything done fairly rather than have this plan. Not only for the principles of it, but because the congressional map is more important to me than the state legislative map. What really sucks about this, IMO, is that we are trading control of the state senate for a congressional plan that pretty much guarantees an 8-3 split until Frank Wolf retires. A fair map might cost us the state senate, but it would result in at least four and easily five congressional seats for us. So if I could get these maps drawn by commission, that would be much preferable to this.

    But the choice here is really not between having everything done fairly and this. My understanding of the law is that state legislative redistricting has to happen in 2011, but congressional redistricting can wait until after the 2011 elections. Republicans aren’t going to agree to fair redistricting. So if Democrats try to kill this plan, what I see happening is that the state house and senate maps get drawn by the courts, which would mean that more likely than not we lose the senate in 2011. After that, the Republicans draw the congressional districts to lock in an 8-3 split. So we are left with an unfavorable congressional map and full McBollinelli control of Virginia’s government. That’s really the alternative. We can either keep the state senate and lose the state house and congress, or we can lose the state senate, the state house, and congress. The former clearly seems like the best option.

  • DCCyclone

    Democrats who complain about the state Senate Dem proposed map are stupid.

    Not that there can’t hypothetically be smart opposition to it, but the only smart opposition is if you can argue that an even better map for Dems can pass the legislature and McDonnell and pass DOJ muster.

    But no Dem I’ve seen here or on NLS is arguing that.  Instead, it’s nonsensical whining that the map protects Democratic incumbents or that the districts split up this or that county or community.

    Good God, get over yourselves, this is war.  The state Senate is our only firewall against the Rethugs, and we have only a tenuous hold on it.  This map improves our odds of holding it.

    I can’t get over how myopic the blogosphere really is sometimes.

    I do hope this map becomes reality.

  • quakercav

    I don’t agree at all with DCC’s tone, but I don’t know where this urge to give the Senate to the Republicans out of some vague notion of what constitutes a “fair redistricting.” I will say that if any of the critics can show me a better map that can stop the Republicans from taking over the Senate I’m all ears.

    However, none the critics (on this blog or NLS) has done so yet and — as someone who’s done a lot of work on Virginia redistricting through Dave’s redistricting app — I think that’s because there is no such plan that can possibly be enacted without giving the Republicans control of the Senate.

  • Anonymous

    I am not sure what to make of Mr. Rousselot’s argument:

    “There is plenty of time to scrap both the Senate Democratic Caucus plan and the House Republican caucus plan, and instead to adopt one of the non-partisan re-districting plans developed by Virginia’s college and university students.”

    What!!!!?  Are the Republicans actually going to vote for any plan that does not help them gain seat?  Of course not.  

    The Democrats drew a plan that helps them.  Will it work, I hope so, but in the end we’ll see.  We have seen what the Senate Republicans map does – Dems down to 14 seats.

  • Anonymous

    I mean not to pick on the author, only to debate his argument.

    Mr. Rousselot argues – The “planning” by Democratic Senators to preserve a majority is “bad policy and bad politics.”

    Why?  If the Democrats do not “plan” this way, the Senate goes Republican.  Now, everything the Republicans want, they get.  I argue that is very bad policy.

    Bad politics?  Voters did not punish the Republicans when they drew the districts in 2001.  Republicans tied in the Senate and picked up around 20 seats in the House (which was a true gerrymandering).  Voters did not cared about the change when it came time to vote.

  • pontoon

    We all know that the Repubs are all about fiscal responsibility…I guess except when it comes to offering tax breaks to the rich and their corporate cronies….and now when it comes to voting.

    Breaking up all these localities has to be more costly to the Commonwealth.  It will require localities to have several versions of sample ballots, several versions of paper ballots, and more electronic voting machines. As I see our map, one of our precincts would be in both HoD districts.  I wonder how much more expensive it will be and did they plan for that in their budget process?

  • Anonymous

    1) We are stuck with a non-progressive way to draw maps because the Republicans killed it every year the last 8 years.

    2)  The Senate Dems map is better than the one now – substantially.  The question is, will it hold up?  If the electorate is the same as it was in November 2010 – there is no map that would keep the Dems in control of the Senate.

    However by taking Democrats from invincible areas and moving them to weaker areas – Democrats have a much better chance.

    3) We should not punish Saslaw/Whipple for participating in the only process that is left for them.  Should we really demand that they fight for a non-partisan plan that will cede control of the Senate to the Republicans or let the courts draw one that leads to the same?  

    4) Why did many of us fight the last ten years to win senate seats?  Now people want the Senators to give it up by fighting for a non-partsian plan that won’t pass, would  end up in court and have some judge give the Senate to the Republicans.    

    5) Republican Ideas are Crazy Bad Right Now – the TEA Party agenda is insane.  Have folks seen what was killed last session?  Yeah, the Senate (and NARAL and PP) missed an anti-choice trick play but I am glad the Senate Democrats are doing what it takes to keep the other side from turning Virginia into a test-lab for every right-wing social and economic idea Cuccinelli, Marshall, Pogge, etc can dream up.

    6) Electoral politics is tough.  You need to be tough to win and tough to govern and redistricting is one of the toughest games in town.  The Republicans have no problem doing everything they can to win and I have no problem with our Democratic Senators standing up to the Rs, winning elections and basically doing the same thing – all legally of course.

  • Peter Rousselot

    Some of the Saslaw/Whipple plan defenders on BV have argued variations on this theme: “It really is too bad we have to support the HOD GOP plan, but you know what, VA Dems have no hope of recapturing a majority in the HOD, so that is just the price we have to pay for trying to build a firewall in the VA Senate”. Aside from the other reasons that I and many others have already posted as to why this argument is full of holes, there is another reason: can you imagine what this argument from Virginia Democrats does to attempts to recruit good–or any–Dem candidates to run for the VA House of Delegates? We’re telling them, “you know what, we’re sorry, but there is just no hope for a Dem majority in the House in this decade, but if you want to run, best of luck to you”. That is defeatist and it is wrong.  

  • Anonymous

    We’re moving here.

    Under Peter’s plan we will have legislative deadlock.  I think most of us agree the House Rs kill every potential Senate Democratic attempt to help the House Ds.  Especially when House Rs have the Governor’s veto pen on their side.

    Peter says if deadlock happens “I would rather trust a special master appointed by a court or a non-partisan Commission, than to trust the incumbent protection plans that the Republicans and Democrats unveiled yesterday.”

    Peter, first understand this.  There is no non-partisan commission. It does not exist. The Republicans have deemed this special life source shall not exist in VA.  The plan will be drawn by a judge because that is the law in case of legisltative deadlock.  Drop the commission drawing the plan already.  It is a unicorn.  

    Unlike Peter, I do not trust the courts to draw a map that gives Senate Democrats, who hold a slim majority, a better chance to keep the Senate Democratic than the Saslaw/Whipple plan.  Call me crazy but politicians have leeway to do this judges – not as much.  And there is no way I trust the judges to draw two maps that give the Senate Dems a better chance to keep the majority and the House Ds a striking chance.  If those maps were ever drawn  y a judge they would be appealed to the VA Supreme Court and in the end, that court will not do it.

  • has 81 comments (and counting). Also, it’s actually been quite informative, IMHO. On the negative side, I’ve already spent several hours more on this issue than any sentient human being should ever have to do in their lifetimes. So, everyone enjoy the conversation if you care to continue it, I’m moving on to other things, like the cheery topic of the continued assault on clean energy and the environment in Congress.  

    • nubiandem

      Either you are for maintaing a Democratic Majority or Not.  You cut and ran on the House Caucus twice.  Yours is not a voice of leadership

  • notlarrysabato

    Let’s grab a random issue, the widening of 66. Arlington is very opposed to this, additional traffic, noise, pollution, etc. Candidates over here run on this issue of trying to stop this project.

    In Great Falls and the Loudoun precincts in this district, many people commute to DC and use 66, and are stuck in traffic on it daily, and widening it would be very popular.

    In a Democratic primary where the electorate tilts heavier to the Dem areas (i.e. Arlington) candidates would be tempted to oppose widening 66 to get votes.

    In the general election, that would be used against them in Great Falls and Loudoun.

    Might they win anyway? Yes. But if they lose those areas, people who don’t have parts of Arlington to save them (Supervisor, Delegate, etc.) would be hurt by the top of their ticket underperforming in their areas.

    This is something I’ve seen before in Fairfax races when candidates have strong regional bases head to head, and it will be much worse with districts like this which are combined with areas that don’t just have uncommon interests, but often have opposing interests.

    • pontoon

      south of Albemarle and Charlottesville.