See below for video and highlights of yesterday’s Virginia House of Delegates debate on HJ615 (“Requires the establishment of independent redistricting commissions by the General Assembly and the governing bodies of each county, city, or town in which members of the governing body are elected from districts”). The gist of this amendment is that:
The Commission shall consist of twelve commissioners, four to be appointed by the Governor, four to be appointed by the Speaker of the House of Delegates, and four to be appointed by the Senate Committee on Rules. Equal representation shall be given to the two major political parties. Congressional district plans must receive an affirmative vote of eight of the twelve commissioners in order to be submitted to the General Assembly for a vote. Senate district plans must receive an affirmative vote of three of the four commissioners appointed by the Senate Committee on Rules in order to be submitted to the Senate for a vote. House of Delegates district plans must receive an affirmative vote of three of the four commissioners appointed by the Speaker of the House of Delegates in order to be submitted to the House of Delegates for a vote. Plans may not be amended by the General Assembly or the respective body and are not subject to amendment, approval, or veto by the Governor. If a plan is rejected by the General Assembly or the respective body, the Commission is required to submit a new plan for consideration and if that plan is rejected, the districts shall be established by the Supreme Court of Virginia. Congressional and legislative districts are to be established in accordance with certain criteria set out in the amendment.
See below for highlights from the debate, as well as a few thoughts by yours truly.
- Del. Sam Rasoul (D) argued that this resolution is “not perfect” but “does several important things,” including “go[ing] beyond the Voting Rights Act,” “do[ing] its best to end partisan gerrymandering,” “citizens for the first time will actually have a veto,” “excludes former members of this body,” “requires full transparency.” However, Raoul points out, there’s a legitimate concern about citizen members adequately representing communities of color in Virginia. In sum, Del. Rasoul argued that we shouldn’t let the “perfect be the enemy of the good” and argued for its approval.
- Del. Lamont Bagby (D) disagreed, arguing that this plan “does not allow for African Americans to be guaranteed a seat at the table.” Bagby added, “We have great concerns about having an African-American representation in the room for redistricting and this doesn’t guarantee that.” Bagby concluded that this amendment “wasn’t done right and it does not of that for the for enfranchisement of African Americans across the Commonwealth.”
- Del. Joseph Lindsey (D) proceeded to rip the you-know-what out of this amendment, calling it “piss-poor”; arguing that “accepting something at the last minute” is not the “best way to get something done or to honor one’s responsibilities”; that “this is a bad example of our representative responsibility”; that legislators are “abdicating our responsibility”; that “we started with a bad bill, a terrible bill…and we got modesty better…what we had was terrible and this is just a little bit better”; that “this does not get us to that point [of voters choosing their elected officials, not vice versa]; that we definitely don’t want the Virginia Supreme Court involved given its rulings that “don’t seem to be in keeping” with the “whole of the Commonwealth”; that the process “most assuredly” can be gamed by just four people, especially since there’s “not clarity in the selection of those people”; and that the argument that this can be improved as we go is wrong, that it should have been done right in the first place.
- Far-right Del. Mark Cole (R) claimed to be “surprised” at what he was hearing, that these are the first objections of these nature that he’d ever heard, that no member of the Black Caucus had ever raised any of these concerns with him.
- Del. Lindsey (D) asked Del. Cole a series of questions about whether or not Cole should have been aware that there were serious objections by Democrats and the Black Caucus. Cole basically deflected the questions.
- Del. Marcia Price (D) backed up Del. Lindsey, arguing that the concerns Lindsey raised about the makeup of the redistricting committee absolutely WERE raised on Privileges & Elections.
- Del. Mark Sickles (D) argued that “this bill does have an element of practicality in it,” and “while it’s not a perfect bill,” he urged everyone to vote for it.
- In the end, the amendment was approved by an 83-15 vote. Note that NAYS included most members of the Legislative Black Caucus: Lachresce Aird, Lamont Bagby, Kelly Convirs-Fowler, Cliff Hayes, Matthe James, Jay Jones, Kaye Kory, Joseph Lindsey, Delores McQuinn, Marcia Price, Luke Torian, Cheryl Turpin, Roslyn Tyler, Jeion Ward, Lee Ware–15.
- What I dislike about this amendment is: a) all the concerns raised by the Legislative Black Caucus members about minority representation; b) the idea that if the commission fails, this whole thing gets punted to the strongly Republican-leaning Virginia Supreme Court; c) the fact that numerous Republicans, such as George Allen and – seriously – Ken Cuccinelli (!) were involved in this in any way/shape/form; d) the fact that almost every single Republican voted for this (why? are they assuming they’re going to lose control of the legislature and are desperate to avoid Dems drawing the new lines in 2021?). What do you think?
UPDATE 11am Sunday – I agree with Ben “Not Larry Sabato” Tribbett on this.
“So this ‘redistricting’ compromise cuts the Dem Governor out completely- and if the commission can’t come to an agreement kicks it to the VA Supreme Court to draw maps. The Supreme Court members are almost all Republicans who were selected by Gen Assembly! Somehow the Democrats just backed a compromise that allows GOP the option to force a commission stalemate- and kick it for GOP on Supreme Court to draw maps- while they have a Democratic Governor who could have vetoed maps. VA now a state where GOP controls map drawing in 2021.”
UPDATE Monday AM: Just noticed, “Delegate Kory was recorded as nay. Intended to vote yea. Delegate Mullin was recorded as not voting. Intended to vote yea. Delegate Turpin was recorded as nay. Intended to vote yea.”