Something Rotten in Richmond


    Yesterday, the House of Delegates in Richmond advanced the Republican gerrymandering plan by an overwhelming 87 to 10 vote. That’s right, the majority of the House Democratic caucus decided to go along with the GOP plan to make them a minority for the next decade. Only a handful of Democrats, including several targeted by the redistricting, voted against the plan. This is a complete and total disgrace for our so-called “leaders” in Richmond.

    If you aren’t upset over redistricting already, yesterday’s vote should really get you riled up. It shows that the Democrats in the House are in complete and total shambles. There’s no vision, no strategy, not even a simple will to stand up and fight.

    Although I deliver most of my righteous outrage to the Democratic Delegates supposedly representing us in Richmond, I want to at least praise the few, very few, Democratic delegates who did the right thing. Here’s who voted against the Republican attempt for a near 70-30 control of the House of Delegates:

    * Robin Abbott (removed from her own district by the Republican gerrymandering)

    * Ward Armstrong (thrown into a difficult district against Republican Don Merricks)

    * Bill Barlow (who sees his district made significantly more Republican without the college town of Williamsburg)

    * Adam Ebbin

    * Patrick Hope

    * Paula Miller (drawn out of existence under the gerrymandering)

    * Joe Morrissey (who you’ll see later is helping lead the charge against the Republican gerrymandering for its lack of equal opportunity for minority communities)

    * Ken Plum

    * Jim Shuler (his district was made significantly more Republican)

    * David Toscano

    I think Adam Ebbin, Patrick Hope, Joe Morrissey, Ken Plum, and David Toscano are worth an extra dose of praise for doing the right thing even though they were not specifically targeted in this redistricting.

    Overall, most Democratic Delegates decided that since the redistricting didn’t personally endanger their reelection prospects it was better to just go along with the electoral slaughter of their other colleagues. And who cares that the plan all but ensures that the Delegates will remain in the minority for the foreseeable future? It is not apparently that our elected Delegates in Richmond care more about their own personal gains through remaining in office than advancing the progressive agenda of the Virginia Democratic Party, assuming you can even define an agenda these days.

    I find particularly reprehensible the actions of the Legislative Black Caucus. After calling on the Governor to support a second “opportunity district” at the Congressional level that would ensure additional minority representation at the national level, the caucus voted en masse for the Republican gerrymandering. At the same time, Ward Armstrong is doing all he can to set up a challenge to the Republican lines based on the Voting Rights Act and the decision by Delegate Chris Jones, the Republican point man on redistricting, to go with only 12 minority-majority district when the Governor’s own independent advisory commission pointed out that 13 compact and reasonable minority-majority districts in the House of Delegates was possible.

    House Minority Leader Ward Armstrong, a lawyer from Henry County, and former Richmond prosecutor Joe Morrissey cross-examined Del. Chris Jones with repeated questions about minority redistricting.

    Armstrong and Morrissey pressed Jones on the data he used and analysis he performed on minority voting age populations and why the number of majority-minority districts remained at 12 rather than grow to 13 or 14.

    At one point, Armstrong asked Jones about his familiarity with the Voting Rights Act, passed in 1965 in response to Jim Crow laws in the South at the height of the civil rights movement.

    “I’m not a lawyer, but I have a working knowledge of it,” said Jones, a Suffolk pharmacist who heads a joint legislative panel on redistricting.

    And how are the other minority Delegates responding to this effort to ensure that there is just and equitable representation of Virginia’s minority community? By praising the Republican redistricting plan.

    “This is not a thing about race,” said Del. Lionell Spruill Sr., D-Chesapeake, an African-American who praised Del. S. Chris Jones, R-Suffolk, the principal author of the Republican plan, for soliciting comments from the black caucus.

    . . .

    Democrats in the House used McDonnell’s Bipartisan Redistricting Commission against the Republican plan Tuesday, arguing that it proposed a 13th House district with a black majority and the House could, too. He has indicated that he will not necessarily be bound by the recommendations of the commission.

    But Jones said a 13th black-majority district – there now are 12 – might dilute the black vote in the existing districts to the extent it would make it harder to elect black delegates from those districts. He said that would violate the Voting Rights Act.

    Jones, who admits that he has only a “working” knowledge of the Voting Right Act, is entirely wrong on his interpretation of the law. The point of the VRA is not to elect black or other minority delegates. It is to ensure that minority communities do not have their voice diluted in the democratic process. If a district in which the majority of the voting age population is African-American elects a white delegate, or a Hispanic delegate, or a Delegate of any sort of race or ethnicity, that is not a violation of the VRA. The point of the VRA is to ensure that the minority community has the opportunity to elect a representative who will serve them.

    The independent advisory commission demonstrated you could create 13 minority-majority districts ranging from 53.5% to 58.0% in the black share of the voting age population. The ranges for the Republican gerrymandering are from 60.7% to 55.4%. On average the difference between the two plans just over 2%! Is that what this is about? Padding your incumbency by adding a minor 2% to the black voting age population, in districts that are all so Democratic they even went for Creigh Deeds!

    The independent commission’s extra minority-majority district comes from Hampton Roads. Six Hampton Roads districts are minority-majority in the GOP gerrymandering: 77, 80, 89, 90, 92, and 95. If you look at the commission’s boundaries they are not significantly difference from the GOP plan for the 80, 89, 90, 92, and 95. The differences are largely due to greater attention to compactness. Their difference is the way they draw the 77, which impacts their ability to then draw a new minority-majority district in the 76.

    The commission finds the following:

    In the course of devising a redistricting plan with 12 majority-minority districts, it became apparent that the current District 77, which joins minority communities in Chesapeake and Suffolk, could be reconfigured to create two districts that may provide African Americans an opportunity to elect candidates of their choice.

    Under their 13 minority-majority district plan the 77 district stays in Chesapeake and a newly drawn 76 around Suffolk appears. They then have to smooth the boundaries for the 78 and 79, which remain white majority. Their 79 has to extend further south from Portsmouth to Chesapeake after giving up some population to the new 76, and they would have a new 78 from southern Chesapeake into southern Suffolk.

    Who currently represents the 77 district, a gerrymandered combination of two different communities? Delegate Spruill, who was quick to praise Delegate Chris Jones for soliciting comments from himself!

    In essence, Delegate Spruill would rather keep his gerrymandered district combining two minority communities in Chespaeake and Suffolk than support a fair, equitable proposal to ensure that there is representation for both Chesapeake and Suffolk in the Virginia General Assembly.

    The plan would also make the 76 into a minority-majority district. The current occupant of the 76? Delegate Chris Jones, the Republican lead on redistricting!

    What sort of corrupt, smoke-filled room bargain do we have between Spruill and Jones to ensure that neither is inconvenienced by the proposition that Virginia should have just and equitable treatment of its minority communities? Unfortunately this isn’t the first time that Spruill had undermined the Democratic Party. And I doubt it will be the last.

    That the bulk of Democratic Delegates went along with this Republican gerrymandering is bad enough. We have come to expect the Republican majority to try to rig the elections in their favor by any means necessary. Why are the Democratic Delegates going along with the plan, instead of loudly fighting it tooth and nail like the Senate Republicans are against the Senate Democrats’ plan for redistricting?

    Even worse is the active undermining by Spruill and others of an attempt to challenge the Republican gerrymandering in courts because of its failures to fairly respect Virginia’s minority community. This is a complete and total failure of leadership in among the Democratic delegates, particularly the minority delegates. It’s time to shake things up. Each and every supporter of the Republican gerrymandering should be held accountable. We need to know why they are so willing to give up the fight.

    I don’t think that this one vote is reason enough to actively oppose the renomination of any single delegate, but I do think it’s something that each and every delegate should be asked to defend. I have added a very broad poll listing every Democratic delegate who voted for the plan to see if anyone stands out for being particularly bad overall on the issues AND has actively undermined the Democratic Party by supporting this plan. I encourage people to use the comments to discuss the merits of different incumbent Delegates and who should be challenged. Do you know people interested in running this year? Join the discussion!

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