Senator McEachin vs Congressman Connolly: Who Will VA Democrats Back?

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    by Paul Goldman

    The behind-the-scenes battle over Congressional redistricting finally went public today, as Richmond-area State Senator McEachin endorsed the CD re-mapping proposal of his colleague, Senator Locke from Tidewater. Let’s cut through the 24/7 noise machine and get down to the coming face-off between McEachin and NOVA Congressman Gerry Connolly. They have opposite end games with no natural compromise. VA Democrats will have to choose either/or.

    Here’s why.

    The Republican-controlled House of Delegates wants a CD redistricting plan written to protect all the incumbents INCLUDING THE THREE DEMOCRATS. But the only Democratic incumbent truly vulnerable in 2012 to a Republican challenger is Congressman Gerry Connolly from NOVA.

    The GOP didn’t do this out of love of Gerry. Rather, they made a very practical decision based on this overriding concern: how to protect GOP Congressmen Randy Forbes, William Hurt and Morgan Griffith, all of whom believe themselves to be at risk should the GA stalemate and a federal judge  get to do Virginia’s CD redistricting.  

    Like all such calculated risks, perception rules. The only way to avoid a court-drawn plan is for the GA to pass a plan that is then signed by the Governor. Thus the quid pro quo: the GOP helps Gerry, and in turn, the Democratic Congressman gets the VA Senate, controlled by his party, to pass the GOP plan or something very similar.  I figure Connolly has an understanding with McDonnell.                        

    Don’t blame Connolly: He is doing what vulnerable members of Congress are doing all over the country this year. As Don Corleone would say, it’s not personal, just business. He is looking out for #1.

    Welcome to the human race.

    Enter now Senators McEachin and Locke:

     

    The Locke plan is far less friendly to several incumbents, especially Mr. Forbes and Mr. Hurt. It gives Democrats two possible pickups at least.  Democratic Rep. Connolly knows the House GOP will never support this plan. Thus, he sees deadlock ahead and a court-drawn CD plan which could put him  at risk.

    THE END GAME:

    Connolly therefore wants the GA to adopt the GOP plan or something similar because he knows the Governor will sign it. So look for this end game.

    The House and Senate reject each others CD plans, which then go to a Conference Committee to try and find a third alternative. The Democratic Senate has at least gone this far with McEachin/Locke. House Speaker Howell appoints three members of this “gang of six,” Senate Majority Leader Saslaw the other three.

    There is no requirement that the Conference Committee reach any kind of consensus. But if a majority of the House members and a majority of the Senate members agree to a unified plan, then the Conference Committee “report” is sent to the floor of each body for an up or down vote, no amendments allowed.

    We can presume the GOP side will not budge except for cosmetic changes.

    This means the three Senators will control the fate of the Committee. One will be a Republican who will side with the House GOP. This leaves the two Democratic Senators. If either Democratic Senator defects, a GOP plan wins.  

    It all comes down to the folks Senator Saslaw appoints. They must be on the P & E committee which has 9 Democratic members, and is chaired by Janet Howell. Traditionally, those appointed look to Saslaw for instructions.

    Additionally, with 2011 Senate elections looming, Senate Democrats are not going to reject the Conference Report, thereby opening themselves up to the charge of voting against a bipartisan plan because it wouldn’t elect enough Democrats.

    A Conference Committee deadlock is defensible, since both parties didn’t budge and the Locke plan is legally superior. Thus, it is a wash for the 2011 election cycle.

    So, who will Saslaw appoint to the Conference Committee? Connolly is from the same area of NOVA, putting Saslaw in a very tough position.

    Dick is a fair guy. But there is no way to be Solomon here.