Cox yanks plan for re­dis­trict­ing ses­sion

Speaker says meet­ing is a waste of time given gov­er­nor’s threat­ened veto

The Progress-Index Weekend - - FRONT PAGE - By Bill Atkin­son As­sis­tant Ed­i­tor

Vir­ginia House Speaker Kirk Cox has pulled the plug on re­con­ven­ing a spe­cial ses­sion to ad­dress a GOP-backed re­dis­trict­ing bill, ap­par­ently clear­ing the way for a fed­eral court to over­see the remap­ping of 11 House of Del­e­gates dis­tricts that were de­clared un­con­sti­tu­tional due to ger­ry­man­der­ing.

Cox, R-Colo­nial Heights, an­nounced Fri­day that he will not call the House of Del­e­gates back into ses­sion on Oct. 21 to adopt leg­is­la­tion to re­draw the dis­tricts, based on Gov. Ralph S. Northam’s de­ci­sion to veto the leg­is­la­tion, re­gard­less of whether it gets bi­par­ti­san sup­port.

“I do not think we should waste leg­is­la­tors’ time or tax­payer money on a ses­sion when the gov­er­nor’s mind is ev­i­dently made up,” Cox said in a state­ment. “There was clear progress be­ing made to­ward a bi­par­ti­san leg­isla­tive so­lu­tion, and while we wish

those ef­forts could con­tinue, it’s ob­vi­ous that both the gov­er­nor and the Demo­cratic lead­er­ship would rather have fed­eral judges draw the map than al­low the leg­is­la­ture to ful­fill its con­sti­tu­tional re­spon­si­bil­ity.”

The U.S. Eastern District Court of Vir­ginia, which had im­posed a map dead­line of Oct. 30 on the state, now will be asked to re­draw the 11 dis­tricts it ruled last sum­mer were racially ger­ry­man­dered to over­pack African Amer­i­can vot­ing strength in those ar­eas. One of those dis­tricts is the 63rd, with Peters­burg as its po­lit­i­cal epi­cen­ter.

Cox crit­i­cized the move to let the courts draw the lines, call­ing it “more po­lit­i­cally fa­vor­able to Democrats than any po­lit­i­cally neu­tral plan that might emerge from a leg­isla­tive com­pro­mise.”

A state­ment is­sued Fri­day by House Demo­cratic Leader David Toscano and Demo­cratic Cau­cus Chair Charniele Her­ring said, “Un­for­tu­nately, the de­lay of House Repub­li­cans through­out this process has brought us to this point. The speaker’s de­ci­sion to can­cel [the] ses­sion brings him into agree­ment with Gov­er­nor Northam and House

Democrats that we’ve reached a leg­isla­tive im­passe on re­dis­trict­ing.”

Ac­cord­ing to the Demo­cratic state­ment, “Re­dis­trict­ing should not be about par­ti­san pol­i­tics, but about en­sur­ing that ev­ery Vir­ginian has the op­por­tu­nity to elect a rep­re­sen­ta­tive of their choice. It ap­pears that fi­nally an in­de­pen­dent court will re­store that op­por­tu­nity to black Vir­gini­ans whose vot­ing power had been di­min­ished.”

The move comes amid grow­ing sup­port for a non­par­ti­san ap­proach to re­dis­trict­ing in Vir­ginia as a re­sult of the po­lit­i­cal firestorm over a map redo. Pro­po­nents of the move say it will take pol­i­tics com­pletely out of map-mak­ing, while op­po­nents — mainly leg­isla­tive Repub­li­cans — claim that district re­align­ment is part of the leg­isla­tive process.

At­tempts to rec­on­cile the new district lines in a spe­cial leg­isla­tive ses­sion all were met with par­ti­san out­rage over how and why the lines were drawn.

Three plans were in­tro­duced — one Demo­cratic and two Repub­li­can. The sec­ond GOP plan was passed by a House panel, but the vote strictly ran along party lines.

Northam, a Demo­crat, said ear­lier this week he would veto that bill if it came to his desk and

re­peated an ear­lier call to let the courts draw the maps.

This would be the sec­ond time in three years a court has stepped in to draw dis­tricts in Vir­ginia. In 2015, the state was told to re­draw lines for the 3rd and 4th con­gres­sional dis­tricts, but when the state Se­nate balked at that, a three-judge panel of the 4th U.S. Cir­cuit Court of Ap­peals took the is­sue back and or­dered the new lines drawn in time for the 2016 con­gres­sional elec­tions.

That move shifted Peters­burg back into the 4th District from the 3rd, and shifted the geo­graphic cen­ter of the 3rd more into Tide­wa­ter. Re­plac­ing Peters­burg into the 4th, along with Rich­mond, sig­nif­i­cantly swung the GOP-lean­ing de­mo­graphic of the district to­ward the Democrats.

In all three House plans, the 63rd District would be re­drawn to re­unite all of Hopewell into the 62nd House District, and add Prince Ge­orge precincts now in the 63rd back into the 62nd. Cur­rently, two and a half Hopewell wards with the ma­jor­ity of the city’s African Amer­i­can res­i­dents are in the 63rd.

Cox

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