With the overwhelming (66%-34%) passage of Amendment 1 on November 3, Virginians are about to find out if they made the right call…or a big mistake. Of course, here at Blue Virginia, we repeatedly warned that the amendment was fatally flawed, for a bunch of reasons including (as Del. Mark Levine helpfully summarized):
- “Amendment 1 does not ban gerrymandering”
- “Amendment 1 keeps legislators drawing their districts.”
- “Every so-called ‘citizen’ on the commission set up by the amendment will be handpicked by party leaders.”
- “Amendment 1 reserves no seat at the table for Black Virginians or any other racial, ethnic, geographic, or language minorities.”
Sounds really bad, right? And yet Virginians voted overwhelmingly to approve the amendment, so…what gives? Quite simply, the fact is that most people who voted for Amendment 1 were led to believe that it would end gerrymandering, which they hate (for good reason). So they voted for it on those grounds. But most voters probably didn’t spend hours and hours studying the fine print or reading the lengthy arguments by folks like Del. Mark Levine, Del. Cia Price, Del. Marcus Simon, etc. against the amendment. And, of course, the pro-amendment folks had massive amounts of money to spend on convincing people to vote yes, while anti-amendment folks had almost nothing. The result was…exactly what you’d expect, basically.
Anyway, now that the amendment is in the Virginia constitution, it’s a done deal, and work has begun to implement it. Earlier today, for instance, the new Virginia Redistricting Commission Selection Committee met for the first time. The Selection Committee is comprised of five retired judges – Pamela Baskervill, Chair (former circuit court judge for the 11th Judicial Circuit in VA), David Pugh (former circuit court judge for the 7th Judicial Circuit of VA), Joanne F. Alper (former judge on the Circuit Court for the 17th Circuit of VA), William C. Andrews, III (retired Hampton Circuit Judge), Larry B. Kirksey (former Judge, 28th Judicial Circuit Court, City of Bristol); plus staffers from the Division of Legislative Services. See below for video of their meeting, as well as live tweets from VAPLAN and reporter Brandon Jarvis.
Now, here’s the (mostly) good news and the (very) bad news:
- (Mostly) Good: The Selection Committee’s meeting today was professional, serious and well-run, with discussion and actions taken to make the application process for citizens to be on the Redistricting Commission as equitable, fair, open and transparent as possible. Also, they took actions towards maximizing diversity and inclusion – regardless of income, education level, race, etc. – among the applicant pool.
- (Very) Bad: The problem is, based on everything I’m hearing and also based on the actual language of the redistricting amendment, no matter how many citizens apply to be on the Redistricting Commission, in reality Virginia House and Senate leaders are almost certainly going to end up picking who they want to pick for the Redistricting Commission (and presumably encourage people they’d like to see on the Commission to apply). So basically, whether 40 people apply or 4,000 people apply, House and Senate leaders will pick 64 names, and the judges will pick 8 names from those 64. Which means, essentially, that despite all the great things discussed and agreed upon earlier today by the Selection Committee regarding casting as wide a net as possible for diverse applicants, in the end the judges are highly like to be picking from what will be, essentially, a stacked deck.
- (Also Very) Bad: The preceding bullet point means that, unfortunately, a *lot* of Virginia citizens will probably end up spending/wasting hours of their time filling out the application (including employment history, an explanation for why they want to be on the Commission, etc.), getting three references, etc., thinking that it’s actually a fair/open/competitive process, when it really…isn’t. That’s not cool at all, IMHO, but it’s what the amendment inevitably leads to. Brilliant, eh? Also, money will be spent advertising this process as widely as possible, with emphasis on how this is supposedly an open and fair process, yada yada yada. Except, again, it really isn’t.
With that, here’s video (I’ll add more as it uploads) and some live tweets of today’s meeting. Enjoy?