Then I realized that the weeks coincided with the run-up for the September 1st deadline the court had set for Congressional redistricting. Perhaps the General Assembly would be working on an 11th hour compromise?
Nope. Early in the special session my fears were put to rest as the Republicans tried to jam everything and forced Democrats to adjourn. Redistricting would occur in September after I was back from vacation.
Then Mark Herring announces that he will be running for reelection as the Commonwealth's Attorney General! It's a good thing I kept my phone on so I could get the texts from friends back in the Commonwealth while on vacation!
A few thoughts.
1. Announcing before this fall's elections ensures that the narrative will not be one of Herring being pushed out by concerned moderates and negative nay-sayers. Despite the all-out effort by the Democrats to win back the State Senate, they are on hostile terrain and could still fall short. Should this happen, the political talking heads could point to the election as a sign that Virginia is still a tough, purple state, and that the VMI graduate and more moderate Ralph Northam would be a better candidate for Democrats going into 2017. The pressure would be on to unite the party and avoid a primary fight.
The core issue that underlies the dysfunction, gridlock, and disrespect in Richmond is the current redistricting process where the Party in power, Democratic or Republican, goes behind closed doors, chooses its own criteria, and draws maps where they actually choose their voters rather than allowing citizens to choose their elected officials. It is the deliberate manipulation of district lines for political power. As a result, we live the fifth most gerrymandered state in the Union.
"Look at the last General Election. The difference separating Ed Gillespie and Senator Warner was less than one percentage point. We arguably live in a purple state. But the closest Congressional District in the state was 16 points. There is no doubt to the outcomes. At the local level that means there is a disincentive for state legislators to debate ideas to find solutions and work together on the issues." - former Delegate Shannon Valentine
81 seats in the House of Delegates are completely safe; the remaining 19 are considered somewhat competitive but rarely feature an opposing major party candidate. There might be 10 races where there is a doubt about the outcome and maybe two seats change out each election.
59 localities in the House districts are divided. 46 of 40 in the state Senate are divided meaning they are divided more than once. Culpepper residents, for instance, are represented by three different Senators. In Lynchburg there are 72,000 households and there are four different ballots required.
Since the February 2014 launch of One Virginia 2021; Virginians for Fair Redistricting the group has built an organization with a foundation and a public policy council. They are committed to being multi-partisan. 40% of Virginians consider themselves independent. There is a member of the Tea Party Executive Committee on the policy council. All of them know what is at stake with redistricting. Shannon Valentine is one of many disciples crisscrossing the state encouraging redistricting reform.
In the fall of 2012, UVA's Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service issued its population projections for 2020 and beyond. They forecast a slowdown in population growth overall for the Commonwealth, with Southside and Southwest Virginia barely growing at all.
But their projections came with a grain of salt.
9th House of Delegates District (Franklin, Henry, Patrick Counties): The 9th had been at the center of Warner's crossover support in 2008, and featured a lively fight by Ward Armstrong after Republicans targeted him in their gerrymandering. The result in 2015? Mark Warner received 36% of the vote, just marginally above Obama's 34% in 2012.
12th House of Delegates District (Montgomery and Giles Counties, Radford City): Warner received 52% of the vote here, higher than Obama's 50% but behind Kaine's 54%. This is a unique district, the influence of Virginia Tech makes it very different than other Southwest districts. It also remained one of the best districts for Libertarian candidate Robert Sarvis.
6th House of Delegates District (Wythe, Carroll, Smyth Counties): Warner's 34% of the vote is behind Democrat McGrady's 37% from his 2013 delegates race, which somehow House Democrats convinced themselves was in the bag. About the same as Tim Kaine's 34% in 2012, but not an impressive showing based on prior Warner claims about Southwest popularity.
14th (Danville City; Pittsylvania and Henry Counties) & 16th (Pittsylvania and Henry Counties; Martinsville City) House of Delegates Districts: Warner received 48% of the vote in the Danville based 14th, marginally better than expected given his near defeat statewide. His 43% in the 16th was similar; better than normal Democrats, but only by a few points.
34th House of Delegates Special Election
Let's give a brief history of the 34th in the last few election cycles. In 2007, Republican incumbent Vince Callahan retired and the open seat was won in a good Democratic year by Margi Vanderhye. Margi had defeated Rip Sullivan in the Democratic primary (Rip is finally making his way to Richmond from the 48th District). I wonder if Rip's pleased that he didn't end up in the 34th, as in 2009 a Republican tsunami swept out Vanderhye by 422 votes.