Government in this country works by consent of the governed. At least that’s how it’s supposed to work, but here in Virginia we’ve allowed that fundamental principle to be eroded for far too long. The age-old tactic of gerrymandering has now combined with the power of modern data analytics to produce a government where the representatives pick the people, not the other way around.
We’ve seen this play out repeatedly over the last several years, with zero incumbents losing their seats in the 2015 elections, and only two losing their seats in 2013. And while in 2013, Democrats received a slight majority of the statewide votes, when broken down into districts they were only able to take 32 of 100 seats.
That is not to imply that gerrymandering is exclusively a Republican problem – our neighbor Maryland has shown that when Democrats hold nearly unchecked power, they too manipulate the map to keep it. The temptation is surely strong to protect your own political career from real challenges.
But whether the motivation is incumbent protection or partisan advantage, the result is the same. The people are cheated out of the right to be accurately represented.
This year, we saw a number of bills aiming to change that. We even saw an ad campaign from an organization that sought to put a human face on the drawing of maps by inventing a new Delegate – Del. “Jerry Mandering.” And for all the hard work put into the effort to get something – anything at all – done to address this problem, we are no closer now than we were at the end of last year’s session.
All of those bills have been killed by subcommittee. Even the mildest of those bills, HJ 581, which would have simply prohibited the drawing of maps for the purpose of favoring or disfavoring a political party, was dead on arrival.
It was no surprise to me when I learned that it had been killed in subcommittee. After all, my opponent, Del. Jackson Miller, sits on the subcommittee responsible for hearing that bill, and he has directly benefited from a map that favors a political party.
His first opponent for the House of Delegates resides in Manassas Park City. She ran against him three times, in 2006, 2007 and 2009. When the time came, and the maps were redrawn, Manassas Park City just happened to be on the wrong side of the line, and Delegate Miller was free of not only his perennial opponent, but several thousand voters from the other side of the aisle.
How much say he had in the process is an open question. How much he gained from it is not.
So what do we take away from this year? Calling our Delegates and asking them to vote for redistricting reform is not enough. Naming and shaming is not enough, either. It’s time to take this fight directly to the ballot box. It won’t be easy, and it won’t be accomplished by accident, but if incumbents consistently vote to kill redistricting reform bills – as my opponent does – we need to organize in those districts to replace them with someone who’s not afraid of government of the people, for the people, and by the people.
It’s time for voters to choose their representatives again.
Lee Carter is a Democrat running for Virginia’s 50th House of Delegates District.