Home Virginia Politics BREAKING: While Dems Distracted by Inauguration, Virginia Senate GOP Stages a Coup

BREAKING: While Dems Distracted by Inauguration, Virginia Senate GOP Stages a Coup


You don’t get more slimy, sneaky, underhanded, etc. than this (great work by Ben Tribbett alerting us to what was going on in the following series of Facebook updates):

“Wow- Republicans in the Virginia Senate are now trying to redraw the maps and draw at least one Democratic Senator out of the Senate. Happening right now on the floor.”

“COUP GOING ON IN VIRGINIA SENATE: Republicans have just brought all new Senate districts to the floor with Henry Marsh gone in DC, now 30 minutes of debate before they send them to the House of Delegates.”


“The Republican redistricting bill creates a 6th majority-minority seat.”

After Ben’s first Facebook notice, I went to the live feed of the Virginia State Senate and watched as Sen. Saslaw, Sen. McEachin (“This is sneaky, this is underhanded, and it’s beneath the dignity of the Senate“), Sen. Marsden and Sen. Barker went ape**** on the Republicans for what they said was a totally underhanded, unconstitutional move that will utterly poison relations in the Virginia State Senate. The fact that Republicans pulled this underhanded maneuver while most people were focused on the inauguration and Democratic State Senator Marsh was out of town (for the inauguration) really says it all. Wow.

P.S. Bizarrely, right after the coup, Sen. Deeds inexplicably started rambling on about a Confederate general (Stonewell Jackson) and how he loved “peaches,” “lemons,” and “women.” WTF?

P.P.S. I’m hoping to get video of this as soon as possible, as you’ve got to see it to believe it. Also, this should be a big, national story. Wow.

UPDATE: Sen. Ebbin tweets, “VA Senate GOP trying to redistrict w/ substitute bill with no notice in violation of our state Constitution” and “VA Senate GOP votes to redistrict in violation of state Constitution.”

UPDATE #2: One of the sharpest Virginia political analysts I know, KentonNgo, tweets: “If VA Republicans were smart enough not to touch the already cleared VRA districts, the plan will likely stand. Dems are toast.” Ugh.

UPDATE #3: Here are the votes as Senate Republicans rammed this one through on 20-19, party-line votes with longtime civil rights champion, Democratic State Senator Henry Marsh, at the inauguration in Washington, DC.

UPDATE #4 (5:10 pm): It will be interesting to see how long it takes the corporate media to get on top of this story. So far, I see the Richmond Times Dispatch has a story (posted at 4:37 pm), but that’s about it. We were up with this story at 4:19 pm, after Ben Tribbett posted about it on Facebook and alerted us to it a few minutes before that. Actually, I just saw that Bob Lewis and Larry O’Dell of the AP are out with a story as of 4:57 pm. ThinkProgress is also on it as of 5:10 pm.

UPDATE #5: Not Larry Sabato has “some initial info on the new districts.” (“Creigh Deeds, the current 25th Senator is put into the 24th Senate district with Emmett Hanger, a district that now includes all of Augusta,and Bath counties along with Charlottesville and other pieces.”)

UPDATE #6: NLS has the new districts.

UPDATE #7: Chelyen Davis tweets, “@lgbillbolling spokeswoman says Bolling wouldn’t have voted for redistricting, “has grave concerns… it’s not something he supported.” Verrry interesting, he can’t be pleased about this (makes it more likely he’ll run as an indy?).

UPDATE #8: Jeff Schapiro tweets, “Even @BobMcDonnell is steamed over surprise re-redist maneuver by fellow R’s in #Va Senate; worried it threatens his agenda.” Nice.

  • kindler

    If they’re going to strip Virginians of our basic rights, then it’s time to take to the f**king streets and take back our state.  

    It’s the future of what “democracy” would look like under Governo Cuccinelli.  And if Bob McDonnell accepts this, then his political career is deservedly over.  

  • kindler

    …give him a piece of your mind at http://www.governor.virginia.g… and at (804) 786-2211.

  • FreeDem

    In 2011, when the Governor’s nonbinding nonpartisan redistricting commission addressed redistricting, they found that an additional minority-majority district that complied with the VRA was possible in the House of Delegates, but not in the State Senate.

    So the question here is if the new, minority-majority seat crated by the GOP is actually minority-majority, or smoke and mirrors.

    It is possible that by touching the already cleared VRA districts, there’s an opening for the Justice Department to block implementation of the new districts. Hope is not lost.

    It is also possible that the new, minority-majority district is smoke and mirrors. Being a white-minority district but no clear majority for either African-Americans or Hispanics is not an actual minority-majority district under the VRA.


    Calls on Governor To Put Partisanship Aside and Condemn These Actions

    Leesburg – Democratic candidate for Attorney General State Senator Mark Herring (Loudoun & Fairfax) issued the following statement today after Senate Republicans used parliamentary tactics to bring forward a plan to redraw Virginia’s State Senate districts:

    “What the Senate Republicans have done today is utterly outrageous and cynical political gamesmanship at its absolute worst.

    “While Americans across the nation honored the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. and put partisanship aside to watch as our President was inaugurated, Republicans in the state Senate disgracefully planned a partisan takeover of the Chamber. These are exactly the types of partisan maneuvering that our citizens and constituents abhor. This is not the Virginia way of governing and their actions raise constitutional concerns.

    “I call on the Governor to rise above the political fray and, in the interest of achieving real results on the issues Virginians truly care about, condemn these actions.”

  • Aneesh Chopra’s Statement on Senate Republicans’ Underhanded Redistricting Maneuver

    Chopra calls on Governor McDonnell to reject the actions of Senate Republicans  

    Democratic candidate for Lt. Governor, Aneesh Chopra, made the following statement today in response to VA Senate Republicans’ surprise maneuver on redistricting legislation:

    “Today Virginia saw two very different visions for how our country and the Commonwealth move forward. President Obama spoke of what we can accomplish when we come together to work for a common purpose, while Republicans in the state Senate showed the citizens of Virginia that they care more about their party’s prospects than they do about the good of everyday Virginians. Their actions today represent the worst in politics – the amount of trust that has been destroyed by this action is immeasurable and the damage that has been done to the institution of the Senate cannot be quantified. I am calling on Governor McDonnell to reject the actions of Senate Republicans. It is up to him to stand up to his own party and do the right thing.”

  • The following is what I’m hearing:

    First of all, there’s no such thing as “technical adjustment” redistricting. It’s either redistricting, which this would be, or it isn’t, with actual people moved from one district to another. That means this move by Virginia’s Senate Republicans raises fundamental constitutional issues.

    Second, the Virginia constitution clearly says that redistricting will be done in 2011 and every 10 years thereafter. It does NOT authorize redistricting in other years.

    Third, the Virginia constitution does not appear to contemplate re-redistricting in other years because it does not address when any such changes would take effect. The constitution defines when “the decennial reapportionment law” takes effect, what district boundaries are to exist until the next elections, and how vacancies would be filled, but it makes no such references regarding re-redistricting in other years.

    Fourth, this issue was addressed by a Richmond Circuit Court judge just last year. The judge stated that the language in the constitution limits the authority of the General Assembly to redistrict to 2011 and every ten years thereafter, and does not allow subsequent re-redistricting, which is what this bill would do.

    Fifth, the Colorado Supreme Court in late 2003 ruled that a redistricting law passed that year in that state was unconstitutional under a similar provision in the Colorado constitution. That ruling was made even though 1) it could be argued that the Colorado language is more ambiguous than the Virginia Constitution; and 2) it was not a legislative re-redistricting because the Colorado legislature had failed to pass a bill in 2001 or 2002. Because of that, the redistricting had been done by the Court. There was not a single dissent on the Colorado Supreme Court on the issue of whether the legislature could redo its redistricting. Two justices dissented, but their dissent was based on wanting to have a hearing on the issue of whether the legislature should be granted an exception to the prohibition on re-redistricting because the approved plan was developed by the judiciary rather than the legislature.

    Sixth, this bill changes the racial and ethnic percentages and the partisan distribution in districts. The changes to the 47 districts may vary, but they nonetheless exist, and could draw tighter Voting Rights Act scrutiny where they are reducing the effective power of African-Americans and others in districts.

    Three things are very different:

    P.S. Also note that the Virginia constitution was amended in 2004 with substantive changes regarding redistricting, making it very clear when this can be done.

  • In Political Power Play, Republicans Pursue Off-Year Redistricting

    Senate Democrats Vote Against Unconstitutional Republican Redistricting

    RICHMOND, VA – Today, in a political power play specifically banned by the Constitution of Virginia, Republican Senators voted to strengthen their districts and weaken districts currently held by Democratic Senators.

    Senator Richard L. Saslaw (D-Fairfax) said, “If this plan stands, there will be litigation, you can be sure of that. The Virginia Constitution says that the Virginia General Assembly shall redistrict in 2011 and every ten years thereafter. This will be struck down. The collateral damage from this thing will be immeasurable. This isn’t the last we’ve heard of this.”

    Senator Donald McEachin (D-Henrico) added, “There have been no hearings on this plan. The public has no idea what these districts look like.  The good working spirit that this Senate has had will come to a very quiet, very sudden end if this bill is passed. To do this by surprise, to rush it through in a day, even though they control the Committee on Privileges and Elections – this is sneaking, underhanded, and beneath the dignity of the Senate.”

    Senator George L. Barker (D-Alexandria) said, “The Virginia Constitution says re-districting should take place ‘in the year 2011 and every ten years thereafter.’ It makes no provision for reapportionment in any year that doesn’t end in ‘one.’ A Circuit Court judge recently ruled that the Virginia Constitution does not allow for re-redistricting, which is what this bill would do, in order “to preclude ‘politically convenient’ redistricting whenever one political party or the other might gain the upper hand.” This type of action is not permissible under the Constitution.”


    The Virginia Constitution makes no provision for off-year redistricting. The Virginia Constitution requires that redistricting:

    take place “in the year 2011 and every ten years thereafter”

    take effect “for the November general election…that is held immediately prior to the expiration of the term being served in the year that the reapportionment law is required to be enacted.”

    [Constitution of Virginia, Article II, Section 6]

  • Dr. Ralph Northam Statement on Unconstitutional Gerrymandering

    Richmond, VA- Today Dr. Ralph Northam, a Democratic candidate for Lieutenant Governor, issued the following statement on the Senate Republican Leadership’s unconstitutional redistricting:

    “On the day that should have been remembered exclusively for President Obama’s historic speech on the importance of unity and for Martin Luther King’s life dedicated to fighting for civil rights, the Senate Republican leadership have engaged in an unethical, unconstitutional act of mid-decade gerrymandering which pushes the politics of divisiveness to a new level. If the Republicans succeed in ramming this down the throats of Virginia’s voters, it would mean a full out war on abortion rights, environmental protection and public education. They couldn’t beat Tim Kaine or President Obama in 2012-so they changed the rules. This is why I will do everything within my power to fully support a law suit to overturn this unconstitutional power grab.”

  • Republicans Attempt Power Grab With Surprise Redistricting

    While the eyes of Virginia were fixed on the Second Inauguration of President Obama, Republicans in the Virginia Senate quietly, and without any prior notice or public review, introduced and passed an act (as an amendment to a House bill) to redistrict Senate seats, attempting to gerrymander the Commonwealth to ensure the election of more Republican Senators. The surprise bill passed the Senate 20-19, while one Democratic Senator was in Washington, attending the Inauguration.  

    LCDC Chair Evan Macbeth reacted strongly to the move by the Republicans in the Virginia Senate: “This blatant power grab — taken on a day of national unity and celebration — flies in the face of Virginia’s values of cooperation and restraint. It is the worst kind of brazen and crass gamesmanship. It demonstrates to all of Virginia the true colors of the Republicans in her Senate: Power at all costs, without regard for the public’s will and without respect for due process.”

    The LCDC calls upon our elected Republican Senators — Jill Vogel and Dick Black — to explain their votes in favor of this bill.  Why was redistricting needed now, again, so soon after the 2011 agreement? Why was this vote taken without public notice or review? Why on a day when the public’s attention was diverted elsewhere?

    We also call on our representatives in the House of Delegates to reject this act, and to speak out  against this kind of politics.

  • Teddy Goodson

    If the Republicans end up controlling the Virginia Senate because of this machination, then the way will be clear for them to pass legislation changing how Virginia’s Electoral College votes in a presidential electionare distributed. They will change the present winner-take-all to distributing Electoral College votes by who wins in each Congressional District. If this system had been in place in 2008, Romney would have been given most of Virginia’s electoral votes.

    Pennsylvania and other Republican-dominated state legislatures are also investigating this change to the Electoral College. What we have here is a another fascist-type political maneuver, designed to put Republicans in control by brute force—- and keep them there, a fait accompli that the rest of us will have to “get used to.”

  • aznew
  • kindler

    Initial stories at AP,ThinkProgress, TPM andDaily Kos.

  • BillFleming

    because Virginia Republicans “flipped the Byrd (so to speak)” to Virginia Democrats while making a travesty of the concepts of Commonwealth and democracy. This should be used as a Call to Action. Democrats need to work to find candidates to run for the House of Delegates, work to get out the vote in all of these districts, and win Delegate races. Winning 19 seats will require more than 19 candidates. As Woody Allen supposedly said, “80% of success is showing up!”

    Remember the election in 2009 when Democrats failed to get out the vote and McDonnell won? Democrats can’t let this happen again. (Yes, I know that Deeds’ campaign sucked, but everybody also knows that things would be a lot different if Democrats had taken a long view and went to the polls to vote anyway!)

  • The Richmonder

    but they’ve just branded themselves as the party of gerrymandering and rigged elections.

  • ir003436

    Does anyone here think the Republicans really give a rat’s ass what we or any other Democrats think about this?

    They won.  Period.  In their minds, it’s over.

  • The action drew strong criticism from Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling (R), who decides tie votes in the Senate and would have been in a position to kill the measure if Republicans hadn’t chosen to spring it on a day when one Democrat was absent. Sen. Henry L. Marsh III (D-Richmond) was attending President Obama’s inauguration. (WashPost

    So Bill and Bob are wringing their hands, ‘not our fault’ and ‘we would have done things differently’ but ‘out of our control’.  

  • kindler

    @CreighDeeds: Everybody needs to take a deep breath. We’re a long way from this redistricting

    Remind me what happened last time we followed this guy’s leadership…