After three days of hard work reassessing the General Assembly’s original redistricting plan that was vetoed by Governor Bob McDonnell, the legislators have reached an agreement. HB 5005 passed in the House of Delegates 63-7 and in the Senate 32-5. The Governor has seven days to either sign or veto the bill, but has already informed the General Assembly of his intent to sign the legislation immediately and has published the following statement.
“I thank the General Assembly for passing this new redistricting plan. I will sign this legislation as soon as it reaches my desk. The plan as passed does address most of the criteria I outlined in my veto letter, and ensures that the elected members of the legislative branch fulfill their constitutional obligation to draw our electoral lines every ten years.
In my veto letter, I asked the Senate to send me a plan that was bipartisan and addressed potential legal issues. The plan approved today is in line with those goals. This plan retains more geographic and municipal boundaries, contains districts that are somewhat more compact, and passed the Senate on a strong bipartisan vote. In these aspects it is similar to the House plan. It is a great improvement over the previous plan that I vetoed, and which failed to gain a single vote from the minority party. I applaud the Republican and Democratic members of the Senate who worked well together to craft this compromise plan.”
Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli’s office has already reviewed the new plan and determined that it would in fact meet the legal requirements outlined by the U.S. and Virginia Constitutions and the Voting Rights Act.
While a bipartisan agreement has been reached, there are still those who feel that the changes to the Senate plan are merely a show of bipartisanship. Senator Tommy Norment, R-Williamsburg, stood and gave an impassioned speech expressing his deep disappointment and sadness at the loss of a portion of his district after his longstanding support and efforts on behalf of the joint interests of Williamsburg, Jamestown, and Yorktown. Norment explained that his constituents were concerned and did not want the change in representation.
He went on to thank his friends on “the other side of the aisle” for their accommodations particularly as they felt that “the hoop was being moved” during the negotiations. He explained that, in the past, majorities in both parties had attempted to draw the lines to their own benefit and had been unsuccessful.
He closed by telling his fellow Republicans “do not despair . . . it boils down to putting good candidates on the ground . . . but this is unacceptable.” Senator Norment informed the legislators on the floor that, while he personally found the plan unacceptable, because he had given his word to the Governor and the Majority leader to vote for the legislation, if the majority of his party voted for it, he would do so.
In response to Norment’s comments, Senator George Barker, D-Alexandria, rose to defend the plan that he himself had helped to develop. He stated that the bill should have broad support as it was the result of a great deal of time, effort, compromise, and collaboration, and that it “reflects the joint interests of the Commonwealth of Virginia, the interests of people throughout the Commonwealth, the interests of people of different perspectives and persuasions, and of the interests of people of different political parties.”
Senator Barker directly addressed the concerns that Republicans had been expressing throughout the process. “We have been responsive to the issues that the Governor raised in his veto letter. We have attempted to make sure that it was an inclusive process.” He then outlined the specific aspects that the new plan addressed. “It reduces the number of jurisdictions that are split, or the number of splits within those districts. It is an effort that addresses deviations from the population norm, and makes sure that those deviations are equal from a partisan standpoint, and from a geographic standpoint, and from the standpoint of slower growing areas versus faster growing areas. It is an effort that has most of the districts within a one percent deviation and not between one and two percent deviation. It is an effort that I think fairly reflects the partisan makeup of the Commonwealth of Virginia.”
So after three days of hard work and compromise, frustration and exasperation, the General Assembly finally has completed the new state redistricting plan and can move on determining the new congressional redistricting plan.