Cox yanks plan for redistricting session
Speaker says meeting is a waste of time given governor’s threatened veto
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.