Ward Armstrong, Others Blast Redistricting Process as “entirely political,” “flawed,” “horrific”

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    (In related news, Dave Leichtman came up with a superb tool for everyone to see how the old and new districts compare. For the House, see here. For the Senate, see here. – promoted by lowkell)

    The Washington Post provides more background on the just-completed redistricting process — who’s responsible, who’s happy, who’s not happy, and just how badly Bob McDonnell betrayed his campaign promise to “ensure bipartisan citizen involvement in the state legislative and Congressional district redistricting process in 2010-2011,” and to draw legislative districts “in a way that maximizes voter participation and awareness and lines [that] reflect commonsense geographic boundaries and a strong community of interests.” Needless to say, the latter did not happen.

    A few “highlights”:

    *”[D]espite the appointment of a bipartisan commission to advise legislators, the lines were largely drawn by two men: Sen. George L. Barker (D), a health-care planner from Prince William County, and Rep. S. Chris Jones (R), a pharmacist from Suffolk.”

    *Overall, “[f]ewer than 10 of the state’s 140 legislators were privy to the lines before they were made public last week” (and none of the public, needless to say)

    *”The Republican-led House of Delegates and the Democratic-controlled Senate have already agreed to vote for their own plans, and then each other’s, as part of a deal between the chamber’s leaders.” Both maps are expected to be approved “with few alterations and within days”

    *The end result? “Lines that protect incumbents and punish challengers” and gerrymandering run amok (e.g., “the Senate has proposed stretching one district from North Carolina to Maryland, accessible only by boat,” the House “has proposed combining the bustling Northern Virginia suburbs of Loudoun County, including Leesburg, with rural areas of the Shenandoah Valley, into one district”).

    Over at Waldo Jaquith’s blog, he’s got a few thoughts on all of this. For instance, Waldo isn’t sure whether to be “depressed or pleased” that George Barker (and/or Barker staffers like Sean Holihan) used a program called Dave’s Redistricting, “a free web application so you can draw your own congressional districts the way you think they should be!” In addition, Waldo correctly calls Bob McDonnell’s bipartisan redistricting commission “more of a fig leaf than ever,” with the legislature having “one half of one working day to even consider [its recommendations],” and with the governor completely distancing himself from a commission that he created and that he promised would “ensure bipartisan citizen involvement” and draw district lines “in a way that maximizes voter participation and awareness and lines [that] reflect commonsense geographic boundaries and a strong community of interests.” Liar.

    Other reactions?  

    In Anita Kumar’s Washington Post article, we’ve got the head of the Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy and chairman of the Virginia Redistricting Coalition calling it “horrific” and saying that it should “disappoint us” even if the totally political and undemocratic outcome shouldn’t “surprise” us. Of course, most incumbents are pleased as punch, since these are above all incumbent protection plans, and since they all were “consulted” and given exactly “what they like.” Charming.

    What I find most telling is the differing reaction from those incumbents who benefited from all this unsavory sausage making, and those that didn’t. For instance, Del. Ward Armstrong basically was redistricted out of existence, after he “wasn’t contacted” and given no chance to “offer a plan.” Not surprisingly, Armstrong is blasting the process as “entirely political,” and “flawed when Republicans are in charge…flawed when Democrats are in charge.” That’s actually the correct answer, but not for the right reasons. In fact, it’s extremely likely that if Armstrong had been given a chance to draw House district lines the way he wanted them, he would have been pleased as punch. Because in this business, the only thing that apparently matters is power, and specifically incumbents holding on to power. Forget the public having any voice. Forget “communities of interest.” Forget any idealism whatsoever. It’s all exactly what people expect of politics – dirty, cynical, self-serving, blatantly political, you name it. And we wonder why people aren’t excited about or engaged in politics in this country? Duh. As bipartisan commission member Gary Baise puts it, this was “an incumbent protection program, and that’s not good for democracy.”

    So now, advocates of true bipartisan, or even nonpartisan, redistricting will have to wait until 2021. When, I can almost guarantee you, the same exact process will take place, with the same types of people (paid political insiders, people vested in the process, those who benefit in some way) defending it, and everyone else just utterly disgusted by it. Ah, Democracy…(paraphrasing Winston Churchill) the best system ever invented, except for all the other ones!

    P.S. In the blogger meeting we had with Brian Moran in the spring of 2008, as he geared up to run for governor, we asked him what the top 3 things were that he wanted to accomplish if he were elected governor. Moran’s #1 answer? By far, it was bipartisan or nonpartisan redistricting, about which Moran talked for several minutes. Why? Because without getting that right, Moran argued that it would be extremely difficult to get anything else right either. Which makes it all the more interesting that we’ve barely heard a peep from the DPVA Chairman about this entire charade, although we did get a statement by DPVA spokesman Brian Coy blasting Bob McDonnell’s bipartisan redistricting commission nothing “more than an empty political promise.”  

    • upset about this were people in Arlington were 100%, wildly, laughably wrong. To the (stark) contrary, ciscontent about this farce is coming from all over Virginia, from across the political spectrum, from good government groups, from people who testified at the bipartisan redistricting commission forums, etc, etc. My big question: why would anyone, other than incumbents (and their staffers) who benefited from this “incumbent protection plan,” defend this entire exercise in cynical politics at its unsavory worst? Especially when it turns out that the Saslaw/Barker plan only has 21 districts likely winnable for Democrats, based on 2000-2009 performance data (and counting presidential and federal years, which skew things in favor of Democrats, meaning that it’s likely lower than 21 seats). also, see NLS’ nightmare scenario, in which, come November, “Senator-Elect Jeff Frederick Gives GOP Control of Senate.” Shudddddddddddderrrrrrrrr…..

    • Peter Rousselot

      Lowell’s latest redistricting update confirms once again the fatally flawed strategy being pursued by Virginia’s Democratic leaders, like Dick Saslaw, Mary Margaret Whipple, and Brian Moran.

      The right strategy all along was to get behind non-partisan redistricting and stick with it all the way to the end, knowing full well that the Republicans will never buy it. Instead, our leaders’ position is: we did our best, but those awful Republicans never bought it, and now we just have to make do. Bad strategy, bad politics!

      The right strategy, which by the way is still available if enough Democrats in the Virginia Senate have the courage to vote these plans down, is to keep insisting on non-partisan redistricting, knowing that the Republicans will never buy it, and go on record as supporting non-partisan redistricting in the courts to break the legislative deadlock caused by the Republicans’ refusal to sign on to this approach.

      Is that what our leaders are doing? No. Our leaders are pursuing Dick Saslaw’s “Maginot Line” strategy, claiming they have constructed a “firewall” that will protect our current razor-thin majority in the Virginia Senate-while handing over to the Republicans a 2/3rds majority in the Virginia House for 10 years (now, that’s unilateral disarmament!).

      The Maginot Line in France preceded France’s fall in World War II.    

    • Why Barker? Is he really the expert on traffic patterns, communities of interest, etc.,  that he’s made out to be? That seems rather dubious, if not complete b.s. In fact, it appears that this entire thing was simply based on a computer program and a desire to protect incumbents. No need for “expertise” on communities of interest, traffic patterns, etc. in order to do that, really.

    • that almost every newspaper in the state, just about every good government group, House Democrats, and many others are blasting the entire redistricting process. Incumbents who are protected under the plans are, for the most part, very quiet about it all. Shocking, huh? (snark)

    • Elaine in Roanoke

      What we need is the existence of candidates for office who run committed – from day one – to work for non-partisan redistricting. Creigh Deeds became a convert only when he was desperately seeking an issue during that dismal gubernatorial campaign.

      One serious problem is that the average voter doesn’t care about redistricting. Oh, some people will get angry if they are moved to the district of another legislator, but they never connect that to the whole fact of gerrymandering to protect incumbents.

    • listlady

      defenses from the insiders is the claim that the commission’s and other alternatives were unveiled “too late”. Given that the census figures came out just a few weeks ago, pray tell, when was that “early” window open for the public to review incumbents’ draft maps and make suggestions? The good alternatives are late only because the decision-makers closed their ears and minds too long ago.