Home Virginia Politics Redistricting: Should Democrats Offer McDonnell a Deal?

Redistricting: Should Democrats Offer McDonnell a Deal?

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( – promoted by lowkell)

by Paul Goldman

Iran-Contra was illegal, almost got Reagan impeached. But that was then: here in 2013, what about a Virginia ammo-for-hostages deal involving 20 VA Democratic Senators held hostage to the redistricting debate and a GOP governor looking for ammunition to claim his “transportation legacy”?

The key to being a good poker player is knowing how to win with a losing hand. The raw deal: Democrats are not in control of their own fate on the Senate redistricting power play.

The unexpected MLK Day power move clearly has rattled the House GOP Caucus and Republican Governor McDonnell. Neither the Speaker nor the Governor saw it coming. There is internal dissension on what should be done.

While the outcome of this intra-party battle isn’t clear, as well as the outcome of any legal issues should the matter wind up before the Justice Department or the Courts, this much is certain: Game theory says Democrats have significant risk of losing this latest redistricting battle.

The Democrats’ redistricting lawyers say not to worry: The GOP power play will be derailed should it ever have to pass the Voting Rights Act or a constitutional challenge. The Dems’ redistricting lawyers promised the same derailment for the 2012 GOP redistricting plan. They were wrong. Could this be Groundhog Day?

More to the point: Can Democrats afford to put all their eggs in the lawyer’s basket? My gut: This risk vs reward equation is a little too….risky. Is there a better play according to game theory? There is sure is in theory.                  

Governor McDonnell has been like Captain Ahab when it comes to pursuing a transportation “legacy.” The reason for chasing this White Whale beats me: but “Call me Ishmael”, it is the storyline.

As I read the State Senate, he can’t get his transportation plan passed by just relying on GOP votes. A couple of Senators are running for GOP statewide nominations and they are going to be afraid of voting for something nomination opponents can call a “tax increase.”  

Meaning: If this is the right read of the GOP, then McD’s hope for a legacy on transportation depends on Democratic votes in the Senate.

Over in the House, the situation is far more complex. But let’s assume the governor can get a plan through the House where he figures to get some Democratic votes right now. If McD has the votes in the House to pass a transportation plan, then it gets done if he can get enough Senate Democrats on board. In theory, all 20 Democrats could do it for him without a single GOP Senate since Bolling is for it: and can break a tie.

The question: Is there a transportation-for-redistricting deal that makes sense for the state and all those in the GA combined?

Game theory says: Yes there is. There are a few easy massages to the governor’s plan which he and his transportation allies should surely accept. It will still leave the plan way short of what Democrats want, indeed what it should be.

But in terms of practical politics, it would be a principled first step true, far bigger than likely to pass in the future. That is reality.

The governor will take hits on his right flank, Democrats on their left flank, even folks in the middle will not be happy in many quarters. It is still a heavy lift as they say.

Yet when you can avoid the real game theory risks – Democrats could be out of power in the Senate until after the 2031 redistricting (as I have discussed previously) meaning no hope of any check and balance on a GOP Governor in the future and no real GA leverage for future Democratic Governors – in exchange for a decent transportation first step, the result is not has some real merit for the public interest.

Ideal? Of course not. Will it make Democrats feel all that good? Of course not. But leadership is having foresight, everything is 20-20 in hindsight.

My bottom line: It is worth seeing if Governor McD is open to it. If Saslaw and McEachin have been feeling McDonnell out, then I say they are doing the right thing, and deserve credit for having the guts to make the hard call. They deserve our full support.

There is simply too much at stake for the next generation of Virginia politics to refuse to explore all the options even those which you don’t like.

The public interest is paramount here. The redistricting power-play puts too much at risk to leave it all to the lawyers.

Moreover, let’s face facts: The governor has to be trying to wheel and deal right now to seek how he can maximize the situation for his own legacy interest.

If he is only playing poker with one side, how is that, net-net, the best possible option given what is at stake? I have no illusions nor expectations. But as a general rule, being pro-active gives you the best options in the long run even if it doesn’t work out in any specific situation.