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Potential Gerrymandering of 31st State Senate District Stirs Up Hornet's Nest

by: lowkell

Tue Mar 08, 2011 at 19:13:15 PM EST

Earlier today, the Washington Post Virginia Politics blog reported on State Senate Majority Leader Dick Saslaw's "possible plan to redraw Whipple's seat in redistricting next month so that it would include new precincts in McLean and Great Falls." Sen. Mary Margaret Whipple, who is retiring from the seat after this year, is quoted as opining that redistricting in this way would be "advantageous to us, obviously," as it would "make some of our very Democratic districts somewhat less Democratic." The reaction to this potential gerrymandering? A few choice quotes:

*The Post article quotes blogger and potential 31st State Senate district candidate, Ben Tribbett, who says he is "outraged by the plans of Senator Saslaw to dilute the youth voter influence in the 31st district by running the district through McLean and Great Falls."

*On NLS' Facebook page, Miles Grant comments sarcastically that "Someone should really tell Arlington Economic Development that young professionals aren't really all that important" (

*On Facebook, Democratic/progressive activist Aimee Fausser adds:

lowkell :: Potential Gerrymandering of 31st State Senate District Stirs Up Hornet's Nest
See, what I want to know is if MMW, Saslaw, etc. have walked down the street in Arlington lately. Really, young professionals won't be impacted??

Please do run, Ben, even if this goes down, the leadership needs to be held accountable.

*Also on Facebook, former ACDC Chair Peter Rousselot writes:
There is a complete logical non sequitur between MMW's concession that the new 31st Senate District might well extend far, far beyond the NW borders of Arlington County and her parallel effort to argue that, even if that turns out to be true, there will be no dilution of voting power of young voters in the RB Corridor compared to the current boundaries of the 31st District. MMW's statement that "They would not be currently the dominant factor in this district, so I'm not seeing how they would be diluted" is simply wrong. A significant reduction in the voting power of any group is a "significant dilution" whether or not they start out as "the dominant factor".
*Finally, Brian Devine adds:
I agree with Miles and Aimee. Progressive young professionals shouldn't be taken for granted and denied deserved representation in richmond
Looks like somebody stirred up a major hornet's nest on this one. Honestly, it's hard for me to imagine anyone in Arlington - except perhaps Republicans - being happy about this one.
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What will hurt them more (3.50 / 2)
having one district diluted, or losing the State Senate majority? Saslaw, for all his faults, is only floating this idea to try to protect the Democratic majority in the Senate, because keeping the 31st packed in as a 70-30 Dem district isn't going to help the Democrats maintain at least 21 seats in the Senate.

Yeah, I see your point. (0.00 / 0)
However, obviously there are numerous people not happy about it in Arlington. It will be interesting to see if that's a widespread feeling or what. Personally, I'd rather just see nonpartisan redistricting, but if it's going to be partisan, I guess this is the type of thing that's gonna happen. Sigh...

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[ Parent ]
Jury Is Out (0.00 / 0)
Johnny Longtorso asks "What will hurt them more,having one district diluted, or losing the State Senate majority?" If these were the only two choices, then it would be hard to argue with Johnny. However, we are going to have to wait to see Saslaw & Whipple's plan for all 40 districts in order to weigh whether that plan overall justifies the proposed significant dilution in Senate 31.

[ Parent ]
This is the #1 mistake people make in redistricting (4.00 / 1)
A 51% Dem district that has communities of interest and issues that can be represented is easier to win than a 55% Dem district that is split between multiple issues and communities.  

For example, in this proposed Senate district McLean and Great Falls commuters on I-66 are paired with Arlington neighborhoods opposed to widening I-66.

Neighborhoods around METRO stations where many residents don't even own cars are combined with neighborhoods that are on 5, 10 and 20 acre lots- and don't even have sidewalks!

Finally, neighborhoods where HOT Lanes are supported by over 90% of residents are combined with a county that sued to stop them because of their "racial impact".

I know you are from Hampton Roads Johnny, but do you see the political disaster here?

[ Parent ]
That sounds like a district ... (4.00 / 1)
... that would give us more politicians like Dick Saslaw. From Dick Saslaw's point of view, I don't see the problem.

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[ Parent ]
Aged Senate Democrats (4.00 / 1)
are the reason that the Senate Democratic Caucus is in shambles. There's no mentoring, no messaging, no outreach, no plan, no nothing. This utter lack of respect for the creative class and other young professionals is a great example of why the Senate Democratic leadership needs to go.

Right to point out why Democrats are in trouble (0.00 / 0)
when you mention "no messaging" (have we heard that someplace else?), "no outreach," and a "lack of respect for the creative class." This is the 21st century. Are Democrats mired in the past, afraid to understand what elected Obama, who elected him, and still unwilling to welcome into their supposedly Big Tent the young and the minorities who are, in fact, our future? We have previously discussed this systemic problem here on this blog (and earlier on bluecommonwealth. com as well).

I as yet, however, am uncertain whether extending the 31st District would be an entirely bad idea until I see the rest of the map. Democrats have to protect their Senate majority, enlarge it if possible, and protect their flanks as well. Would a straight non-partisan, non-political re-districting do that? The demographics are changing pretty fast, and 10 years is a long time between re-districting---- remember Tom Delay and the in-between census re-districting in Texas.

[ Parent ]
I am with Johnny here.... (4.00 / 1)
Let me throw this out there. I am under 30 and live in Alexandria and used to live in Arlington. We need to stop packing as many Democrats as we can into one district! If we can make a 70% Democratic district a 60% Democratic district chances are that we will still elect a solid progressive Democrat to the district. Arlington continued to elect MMW who clearly doesn't fit the mold of a young progressive over and over. Having an Arlington based seat does not guarantee that a young professional minded Senator will represent them.

Johnny is absolutely right, let's get over this and ensure that we can do whatever we can to keep the Senate majority intact! Our two strongholds are African-American districts which we can't really dilute due to the VRA along with their shrinking population and NoVa, in particular Arlington and Alexandria. Shall we make sure that Arlington gets its own super 70% blue seat in exchange for having no check on the GOP administration? No check on that can also mean that the gerrymandered Congressional maps stay the way they are. Having a court ordered map may yield an additional Democratic seat amongst other things. For all the faults of Saslaw I'd take him over any Tea Party leader any day.

It is a no-brainer to me, draw a map that soaks up a few McLean and Great Falls precincts and splits Arlington's strongly Democratic voters just a bit so that you can help other NoVa based seats to save the majority.

We are currently operating under a GOP gerrymander. They want Arlington all into one district!  

What a load of crap (2.00 / 3)
Look, Ben and Miles are usually 100% drama queens and usually at least 99% about touting their own dubious needs to be heard.  Basically, when they bitch about something like this, I tend to support whoever they're bitching against.

In this case, there's a very simple reason why expanding the 31st out into McLean makes sense - it's called helping Janet Howell primarily, and at least three other Dem senators secondly.  For Janet, she's pretty safe, but Caren Merrick is running and supposedly has some major dough behind her.  So, putting this potential candidate in with extremely liberal Arlington makes life a lot easier for Janet.  Secondly, by moving Howell's district a bit more to the west, it bolsters up everyone else out there - primarily, Chap Peterson and whatever the new Senate district will be that will take half of Mark Herring's district.  Chap does have some precincts up in Drainesville, so if Janet can take those off his hands - and they're rich Republican precincts - that helps Chap out a bit.  And, if Janet needs to swing out to Loudoun or have Chap further down Rt. 50, that could help take out some Republican precincts in Chantilly that are in Dave Marsden's district or currently in Herring's.

It's all about unpacking some of the very Democratic districts in the inner suburbs to help out, as much as possible, the more westerly districts.  The same thing will most likely be done with the 8th and 11th congressional districts - Moran will give up some of his very blue Fairfax precincts and take on some of Connolly's reddish precincts, while Connolly dumps the real Republican precincts out in Prince William into the new 10th or new 1st or whatever is drawn out there.

To say that this is some evil plan to dilute the votes of the 20-somethings in the Ballston-Clarendon-Rosslyn corridor is false and stupid.  They'll still have a very liberal Democrat representing them.

You're right ... (2.50 / 2)
McLean & Arlington are exactly the same. Also: Barbara Comstock and Mary Margaret Whipple are identical!

With brilliant analysis like that, I can see why you don't want to use your real name on your posts.

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[ Parent ]
The thing is... (0.00 / 0)
I agree with NotJohn quite a bit here. I'll leave out his first paragraph but the reality is that Arlington and Alexandria are Democratic vote sinks. Anchor a district there and you get a Democrat. Loosen the anchor a bit and you get...a Democrat.

We need to keep a Democratic Senate and to do this we need all of our incumbents to win and we have some very tough races ahead. We are operating under a GOP drawn map for a reason. They know that they need to pack Democrats into as few districts as possible and create as many GOP leanings seats as possible.

We have to do the same with Democratic seats. Diluting strongly liberal Arlington with purplish McLean/Great Falls makes perfect sense to do this. Rather than a 70% Democratic seat you get a 60% Democratic seat which is still extremely likely to elect a Democrat. The impact to others maps and reasons why were laid out well, I won't rehash them.  

[ Parent ]
Look guy (2.50 / 2)
You finished 4th in your primary in 2009, so your own expertise of your own back yard is questionable at best.  However, that's not the discussion here.  I was not in any way, shape or form saying that McLean and Arlington are the same.  Although, McLean and North Arlington aren't very different.  My point is, it's not like someone is proposing lumping Ballston in as a minority area with a Republican majority.  My point is that being 75-25% Democratic-Republican is no better than being 65-35%.  Do you get extra points for that higher DPVI?  No.  But, the Republican voters who can be lumped in with all of those Democrats helps out several other Dems - which, I thought, is a main goal of all Democrats.  Getting more Democrats elected more easily, instead of trying to build some homogenous 200,000 person Democratic superfortress of a district - which doesn't help anyone else out at all.

[ Parent ]
This is what Democrats did in the 1991 redistricting (0.00 / 0)
Which was to add a few Republican precincts into otherwise fairly solid Dem leaning districts to help the neighboring districts.  In doing so they destroyed their communities of interest.  

The result?  Democrats dropped from 30 seats to 22 seats in the Senate during that one election.  What seats did we lose?

The Falls Church district (Mason/Providence) was taken into Oakton/Fairfax City and Jane Woods (R) won.

The Charlottesville district was taken into Madison and Orange counties and Ed Robb (R) won.

The Roanoke City seat was taken way out into deep Roanoke County (near Franklin and Botetourt) and Brandon Bell (R) won.

Point is this.  Your argument that Democrats should draw seats that favor them, and that they can win is obvious.  Every Democrat would agree (although I'd prefer a nonpartisan process).  But I think Democrats do better when they represent clear communities of interest that can be represented.  Janet Howell has done fine representing Reston/Great Falls/Herndon/McLean in the last 10 years and if her district didn't change at all she would be fine again this year, regardless of how much cash her opponent spent.  But draw Whipple's seat into McLean and Great Falls and it could turn into a disaster, no matter what the "DPI" is.  Remember, Arlington voters haven't had a real "off off" year election to vote in for years, while McLean and Great Falls voters are used to voting in huge numbers in every election.  In 2007 for example, McLean voted at 38.2% turnout while Arlington was 23.4% turnout.  Combine that with a memory of the elections in the last 10 years that were a problem for Dems in Arlington or Alexandria (the lowest turnout ones) and you can see why even with a big DPI this isn't a very good match.

Plus, Great Falls already has something to overwhelm it in the Senate, it's called Reston, which has great voter turnout and is very Democratic.

[ Parent ]
So Ben (0.00 / 0)
Your argument is that Arlington, as blue as blue gets, needs protection from 3-5 precincts worth of purpleish voters in McLean?  I'm not buying that at all.  I think under any circumstances the 31st would still be 80% in Arlington, making up about 80% of Arlington.  I don't disagree that, with current numbers, Arlington itself could make up an entire Senate district, with a couple of precincts to spill over elsewhere.  And, there may be some logic to that.  But, not at the cost of not helping a few other Democrats out.  

And, this isn't 20 years ago, when even in Fairfax, a lot of people who had long identified themselves as Dems were converting over to the Republicans since they were really just southern conservatives.  The problem with the redistricting in 1991 was that the Democrats then in power did not fully understand the fracturing within the Democratic Party as the truly conservative wing was breaking off and joining the Republicans.  Not unlike how the 2001 Republicans didn't see the moderate Republican faction - which represented a lot of Republican voters in Fairfax - was soon to leave them for the independent or Democratic side.

So, in a nutshell, I don't think that running a few precincts in McLean into a district that will be 80% Arlington County will suddenly lead to a teabagger representing Ballston.

[ Parent ]
Agreed (0.00 / 0)
3-5 precincts in McLean is not a problem- especially not near the border where they are more blue.  The plan we are discussing has 16 precincts from McLean and Great Falls.  THAT is a problem.

[ Parent ]
I don't believe that one will make the cut (0.00 / 0)
That would require some wholesale changes in about 4 different Senate districts.  I agree with the logic that longish west-east districts are good for Dems in general, but there's no need to completely re-write the map for Fairfax and inner suburb districts.  

Don't be surprised if, on the Congressional side, you see the 8th move out of Reston and into either McLean/Great Falls or pretty deep into the Springfield/Clifton area.  I think Connolly's goal is a nice hourglass-shaped district with just a small stripe of the current Springfield district to connect the Democratic areas of Prince William down along I-95 with the Democratic areas of Fairfax that are in Mason, Providence, Hunter Mill and Braddock.  But, I don't wholesale changes like that on the state Senate side.

[ Parent ]
I hope you are right (0.00 / 0)

[ Parent ]
Ha (1.00 / 1)
Do you and The Richmonder have some sort of deal where you rate up each other's personal attacks? It's kinda cute.

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[ Parent ]
I actually disagree (0.00 / 0)
with a lot of his positions, since, as his name suggests, he has a very Richmond outlook on the world, which generally goes against Dems in NoVA.  

That said, deal with the criticism.  You're always very fast to go off the deep end with the conspiracy theories when it comes to anything Arlington.  I guess you guys have the time, since the only real political competition in Arlington are the Greens or some other liberal splinter group.  I envy that sometimes, although I do admit to enjoy getting in the face of Republicans from time to time.  But, in general, out here in the real world, where we have real Republican threats to deal with all the time, we tend to keep a more balanced eye on the goings on.  Something that a Dem in Arlington - or the City of Richmond - doesn't really need to take into account.

[ Parent ]
As to your point about Merrick having a lot of money... (0.00 / 0)
Janet Howell has raised $300,000 so far and has $200,000 cash on hand. Caren Merrick has raised $45,000 so far and has $34,000 CoH. Merrick probably will raise a lot of money by virtue of this being an extremely wealthy area, but so will Howell. Honestly, as I said below, Howell is really not in much danger here.  

[ Parent ]
No, Janet isn't (0.00 / 0)
but, you have a lot of Senate districts - Janet's, Chap's, Saslaw's, Ticer's and Whipple's - that are all 4-8k short on population.  Or, a precinct or two short, since it's easier to think of it that way.  Mark Herring's district is going to fall completely out of Fairfax, and the only two Fairfax Senate seats that have excess population - thus needing to shed precincts - are Puller's and Marsden's.  Even Barker needs a few thousand people.  

Thus, if the Senate seats at the western and southern edges need to get rid of precincts, and the inner ones need to gain, then you have to move some people around.  If you move the 31st out 3-5 precincts into McLean, that allows the 30th to take over some more Arlington precincts.  That lets Saslaw and Barker swing in to take some of Pullers.  Then Chap can swing a bit to the south/southwest to take a few of Marsden's Republican precincts, and Janet - needing 7 precincts or so at this point - can take over most of Mark Herring's former precincts.

This is my personal idea of how to do it.  There are a number of ways to slice things up, but the end effect of all of this is that Howell stays about the same on DPVI, Marsden gets a bit bluer, Chap gets a few Republican-leaning precincts that don't harm him, Barker picks up some Dem areas, and Saslaw, Whipple and Ticer district remain very solidly blue Whipple's still major-majority Arlington, Ticer's Alexandria, and Saslaw all of the Annandale/inner beltway stuff.

As to Merrick - when you're husband is worth several hundred million dollars, she'll get her money when she needs it.  I don't think she has much of a chance of winning, but no candidate wants to deal with the hassle of of a deep-pocketed gadfly candidate plastering signs up all over, filling mailboxes with lit and buying lots of expensive media time and pages.

[ Parent ]
I understand how making other districts more Democratic would work (4.00 / 1)
And I would definitely support a plan that does that. For example, moving SD-32 into the more suburban parts of North Arlington and giving some Democratic areas around Herndon to some other district, keeping Howell's district about the same in terms of partisanship and making SD-33 or 37 more Democratic. I think that would be a great idea. However, this is one of those cases where the interests of the people who have the most say in this are not the same as the interests of the Democratic party. If something like this was done, you can be sure that Howell would demand a safer district, even though making her safer would be unnecessary packing that would actually hurt Virginia Democrats as a whole. Her district is actually at the perfect level of partisanship right now; safe enough that any Democrat is overwhelmingly favored but not overly packed at the expense of other districts. But of course Howell would like to have a district that she could win without lifting a finger, and she has enough influence in the senate that her demands would not be ignored. If a district is drawn that connects the Rosslyn-Ballston corridor to Great Falls the way I see this playing out in practice given the politics of the Virginia senate is that Howell is the main beneficiary, not the surrounding districts. And that is definitely not worth the splitting of communities that something like this would do.  

[ Parent ]
This really isn't necessary (4.00 / 1)
State senate district 32 (McLean, Great Falls, Reston, Herndon), the district that would be made more Democratic under this plan, voted for Deeds by a 6-point margin and for Obama by a 21-point margin (see here.). You have to figure that Creigh Deeds is the absolute bottom for any Democrat here, and the fact that even he won by six points says a lot. I'm okay with something like this when it is the difference between having one Democratic seat and one Republican seat vs two Democratic seats, but when the reward is so low I can't justify something like this. If this results in two moderate Democrats instead of one progressive and one moderate Democrat, the net effect could be to shift the ideology of the senate to the right.


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