Gille­spie, Northam strike dif­fer­ent tones on need for redis­trict­ing re­form

Richmond Times-Dispatch Weekend - - FRONT PAGE - BY GRAHAMMOOMAW

When redis­trict­ing came up at the first de­bate of the Vir­ginia gov­er­nor’s race, Demo­crat Ralph Northam turned to Repub­li­can Ed Gille­spie with a ready- made at­tack line.

“You were the ar­chi­tect of what we see now as cur­rent- day ger­ry­man­der­ing,” Northam said.

“It was El­bridge Gerry. But ... ” Gille­spie in­ter- jected, re­fer­ring to the Mas­sachusetts gov­er­nor who be­came the pa­tron saint of par­ti­san map­draw­ing in 1812 when he ap­proved a leg­isla­tive dis­trict that looked like a sala­man­der.

It may not rev up the crowds on the cam­paign trail, but few is­sues in the gu­ber­na­to­rial race will shape the fu­ture of Vir­ginia pol­i­tics more than redis­trict­ing. When the

Gen­eral Assem­bly re­draws Vir­ginia’s con­gres­sional and leg­isla­tive elec­toral maps af­ter the 2020 cen­sus, the next gov­er­nor will have the power to sign off on or veto law­mak­ers’ pro­posed new po­lit­i­cal dis­tricts.

Even though Vir­ginia Democrats are rid­ing a win­ning streak in statewide elec­tions that dates to 2009, Repub­li­cans have ma­jori­ties in both state­house cham­bers and hold seven of the state’s 11 seats in the U. S. House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives. In many leg­isla­tive races, in­cum­bents go un­chal­lenged or cruise to easy vic­to­ries over long­shot chal­lengers.

De­fend­ers of the state’s elec­toral maps say the bal­ance of power can be ex­plained largely by GOP- fa­vor­able turnout in off- year elec­tions and the fact that Demo­cratic vot­ers tend to clus­ter in pop­u­la­tion cen­ters while Repub­li­can vot­ers are spread across a larger ge­o­graphic area. To crit­ics, it’s a sign that the of­ten bizarrely shaped dis­tricts were drawn that way for a rea­son: To rig the map for max­i­mum po­lit­i­cal ad­van­tage.

Calls for tak­ing map- draw­ing power away from politi­cians by es­tab­lish­ing a non­par­ti­san, in­de­pen­dent redis­trict­ing process have gained some bi­par­ti­san sup­port at the Gen­eral Assem­bly, but Northam and Gille­spie have struck dif­fer­ent tones on the ques­tion of whether re­form is needed.

Northam, the ben­e­fi­ciary of a $ 500,000 do­na­tion from the Na­tional Demo­cratic Redis­trict­ing Com­mit­tee led by for­mer U. S. At­tor­ney Gen­eral Eric Holder, has de­clared sup­port early and of­ten for non­par­ti­san redis­trict­ing.

“I will stop the ger­ry­man­der­ing,” Northam said at the mid- July de­bate in Hot Springs. “And I will not sign a map un­less it is drawn by a non­par­ti­san redis­trict­ing com­mis­sion.”

“It’s hard to take the pol­i­tics out of pol­i­tics,” said Gille­spie, who once led a na­tional redis­trict­ing ef­fort to pre­serve and grow GOP power in state­houses and Congress through the Repub­li­can State Lead­er­ship Com­mit­tee. Its Redis­trict­ing Ma­jor­ity Project was called REDMAP.

Gille­spie added that although he agrees that the tech­no­log­i­cal pre­ci­sion of mod­ern map- draw­ing prob­a­bly has been a fac­tor in Amer­ica’s po­lit­i­cal po­lar­iza­tion, he’s not con­vinced that non­par­ti­san maps would be a dra­matic im­prove­ment over the par­ti­san ones.

“I don’t rule out the no­tion of redis­trict­ing re­form, but I’m not putting for­ward my own plan in that re­gard,” Gille­spie said in a re­cent in­ter­view.

Brian Can­non, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of redis­trict­ing re­form group OneVir­ginia2021, called Gille­spie’s stance “dis­ap­point­ing” given that the Repub­li­can has come out with de­tailed pro­pos­als for ev­ery­thing from taxes to fire­works.

“He would be a great ally to help fix it,” Can­non said. “But he has not been will­ing to walk through that door.”

The anti- ger­ry­man­der­ing ef­fort has drawn some bi­par­ti­san sup­port in the Gen­eral Assem­bly, in­clud­ing from state Sen. Jill Vogel, R- Fauquier, Gille­spie’s cur­rent ticket mate as the GOP nom­i­nee for lieu­tenant gov­er­nor.

But many Repub­li­cans — some of whom feel the true aim of the osten­si­bly non­par­ti­san push is to oust GOP law­mak­ers with­out hav­ing to win at the bal­lot box— have balked at the idea, ar­gu­ing that Democrats too have drawn maps to their ad­van­tage when they have had the power to do so.

The strength of the Repub­li­cans’

66- 34 ma­jor­ity in the House of Del­e­gates will be tested in next month’s elec­tion, when Democrats will hope to see sev­eral GOP- held seats in sub­ur­ban ar­eas flip to their col­umn.

Even if Democrats only pick up a hand­ful of seats in the House this year, there’s a strong chance that sev­eral redis­trict­ing law­suits in the works could lead to new dis­trict lines and even trig­ger a round of spe­cial elec­tions next year.

This week, a panel of fed­eral judges in Rich­mond will hold a hear­ing in a case that ar­gues that in the last round of re- dis­trict­ing, af­ter the 2010 cen­sus, the House of Del­e­gates un­con­sti­tu­tion­ally packed too many African- Amer­i­can vot­ers into ma­jor­ity- mi­nor­ity dis­tricts, di­lut­ing their vot­ing power else­where.

In March, the U. S. Supreme Court sent the case back to the Eastern Dis­trict of Vir­ginia for fur­ther ex­am­i­na­tion, rul­ing the lower court had erred in an ear­lier rul­ing up­hold­ing the con­sti­tu­tion­al­ity of the dis­tricts in ques­tion.

On Oct. 17, the Supreme Court of Vir­ginia will hear an ap­peal in a case brought by OneVir­ginia2021 that ar­gues sev­eral House dis­tricts are so oddly shaped they vi­o­late con­sti­tu­tional re­quire­ments for com­pact­ness.

Vir­ginia’s con­gres­sional bound­aries also were sub­ject to le­gal ac­tion af­ter the redis­trict­ing that fol­lowed the 2010 cen­sus.

In Jan­uary 2016, a three- judge panel im­posed a new Vir­ginia con­gres­sional map af­ter rul­ing that Vir­ginia leg­is­la­tors had packed too many ad­di­tional black vot­ers into the 3rd Dis­trict, rep­re­sented by Rep. Robert C. “Bobby” Scott, a Demo­crat.

Scott’s dis­trict, which for­merly me­an­dered from the Rich­mond area to New­port News, now is con­fined to Hamp­ton Roads. In re­draw­ing Scott’s 3rd Dis­trict, the judges also changed bound­aries of sur­round­ing dis­tricts, most no­tably the 4th. In Novem­ber 2016, Democrats flipped that newly re­con­fig­ured dis­trict, as A. Don­ald McEachin was elected to a seat that now cov­ers much of the Rich­mond re­gion. gmoomaw@times­dis­patch.com

(804) 649-6839

Twit­ter: @gmoomaw

Calls for tak­ing map-draw­ing power away from politi­cians by es­tab­lish­ing a non­par­ti­san, in­de­pen­dent redis­trict­ing process have gained some bi­par­ti­san sup­port at the Gen­eral Assem­bly,

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