Governor Wilder on Redistricting

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    The Virginia General Assembly is returning to Richmond today to determine what, if anything, can be done to end the impasse created by Governor Bob McDonnell’s veto of redistricting package from the House and Senate. Former Governor Doug Wilder has provided some timely insights into the redistricting process based on his own years of service for the Commonwealth. It is well worth reading today and links to my own concerns about the failures of minority delegates, particularly Delegate Lionell Spruill, to fight for a plan in the House that would increase the number of minority-majority districts from 12 to 13.

    This is how former Governor Wilder recalls the 1990 round of redistricting.

    BACK IN 1990 WHEN WE WERE drawing legislative lines, it was presented to me that Virginia could have a map drawn that would see potentially 10 black members of the House of Delegates elected. For me, that became the smallest number of districts I would accept. The Senate voted for three majority-minority districts, and the House voted for eight majority-minority districts instead of 10.

    As governor, I wanted to see 10 majority-minority districts in the final plan presented for my signature. I likewise saw that we could have five majority-minority districts in the state Senate. In the end, that was how the final plans looked.

    I like to think that the addition of those members from these districts has added to the impact of decision-making regarding the appointments of judges and other positions of authority in our commonwealth. Numbers do count, and the improvement of those numbers helps in the ability to influence and enlist others to your cause.

    It should be a fundamental tenant of democracy to ensure that all Virginians, including minorities, are represented in a just and equitable way. Unfortunately too many political actors seem to be happy to simply accept the status quo instead of working to improve representation in the General Assembly. I find it very, very interesting to see how former Governor Wilder outlines how members of the Legislative Black Caucus felt about redistricting in 1990.

    VIRGINIA MUST COMPLY with the strictures of the Voting Rights Act. That means this commonwealth is not allowed to dilute the political strength of minority voters. Fewer than 10 districts in the House and five in the Senate in 1990 seemed to be unnecessary dilution to me.

    I was shocked to discover that the Legislative Black Caucus wasn’t at all interested in having the maximum of 10 majority-minority House districts and five majority-minority Senate districts drawn. Its members told me they were happy with eight and five. I let it be known that was an unacceptable conclusion.

    So how far have we advanced during the 20 years since that regrettable episode in Legislative Black Caucus history?

    Recently, the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus was made aware that as many as 13 majority-minority House districts could be drawn during this round of redistricting. The reaction of the caucus is puzzling. The scene was almost a perfect reproduction of what happened in 1990: Its members are willing to settle for 12. There also could be a sixth minority Senate district.

    Is less representation in the General Assembly a better result for the constituents that the members of the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus purport to represent?

    I served as the first chairman of the Legislative Black Caucus, remaining in that position until I was elected lieutenant governor of the commonwealth. I do not impugn its motives or question its sincerity. I have many friends among its members and have campaigned and helped many of them win election. I just hope they don’t forget how some of them got to where they are.

    I disagree with Governor Wilder on the possibility of a sixth minority-majority State Senate district, doing so would really stretch any sense of community of interest and could well be challenged, and struck down, in the courts. But a 13th minority-majority Delegate district is very, very possible. So why isn’t the Legislative Black Caucus doing more to make the 13th district a reality?