Group re­veals re­dis­trict­ing plan

Ci­ti­zen-driven 10-mem­ber panel is pro­posed to draw new leg­isla­tive dis­tricts

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

RICH­MOND — Call­ing it “our mo­ment in his­tory,” the group OneVir­ginia2021 in­tro­duced its pro­posal Thurs­day to amend the state con­sti­tu­tion and create a cit­i­zens’ panel to han­dle re­dis­trict­ing.

“We hope we have pro­vided a ve­hi­cle that will find its way through the Gen­eral Assem­bly and re­ally give cit­i­zens a say in how they want their leg­isla­tive dis­tricts drawn,” Wy­att Dur­rette, chair­man of OneVir­ginia2021, told a packed room at the state Capi­tol.

The pro­posal, which would re­quire pas­sage by the leg­is­la­ture in 2019 and again in 2020 be­fore be­ing put on a 2020 ref­er­en­dum, does not “di­vorce po­lit­i­cal in­volve­ment” in the map-draw­ing, said Dur­rette, a for­mer GOP state leg­is­la­tor and can­di­date for statewide of­fice. In­stead, he added, it will just “tem­per it.”

Leg­isla­tive lead­ers from both par­ties will be able to pick peo­ple for the 10-mem­ber panel. How­ever, the ma­jor­ity of that panel would con­sist of in­de­pen­dents, and nei­ther the leg­is­la­ture nor the gover­nor would have any say in the fi­nal plan.

A com­mit­tee of five re­tired cir­cuit-court judges — four picked by the leg­is­la­ture’s lead­ers based on party af­fil­i­a­tion and the fifth cho­sen by the judges them­selves — would seek nom­i­na­tions from across the state for the panel and pick 22 nom­i­nees. Of these 22, five would be Democrats, five would be Repub­li­can, and the re­main­ing 12 would be in­de­pen­dents.

At that point, each of the four leg­isla­tive lead­ers would have the power to strike three can­di­dates — one from the op­po­site party and two in­de­pen­dents.

The re­main­ing nom­i­nees — four in­de­pen­dents and three from each party — would then be­come the re­dis­trict­ing com­mis­sion.

Dur­rette said the panel will fol­low all of the re­quired cri­te­ria for re­dis­trict­ing, such as be­ing com­pact con­tigu­ous and shar­ing com­mu­ni­ties of in­ter­est. But those dis­tricts will not be drawn to fa­vor an in­cum­bent or cer­tain po­lit­i­cal party. Trans­parency is cru­cial for the panel, as Dur­rette said ev­ery sin­gle sug­ges­tion and de­ci­sion will be made “in the

broad day­light.”

The fi­nal map would re­quire ap­proval from seven of the 10 com­mis­sion­ers. At least one Demo­crat and one Repub­li­can com­mis­sioner vote must be part of that in or­der to be of­fi­cially ap­proved.

“That plan will be fi­nal,” Dur­rette said, “and that is how the re­dis­trict­ing will stay for the next 10 years.”

A.E. Dick Howard, a Univer­sity of Vir­ginia con­sti­tu­tional ex­pert and a mem­ber of OneVir­ginia2021, said the com­mis­sion is nec­es­sary be­cause the state con­sti­tu­tion as cur­rently writ­ten “doesn’t do the job” it is sup­posed to do when it comes to re­dis­trict­ing.

“Peo­ple have to step in and do it for them­selves,” he said. “This is our mo­ment in his­tory, our mo­ment to do it.”

OneVir­ginia2021 ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor Brian Can­non noted the grow­ing trend na­tion­wide of cit­i­zens tak­ing the map-draw­ing into their own hands. This year alone, five states passed ref­er­enda that es­sen­tially took the map pen­cils away from their state leg­is­la­tures.

Can­non said the group wanted to start the process now in time for the 2021 leg­isla­tive elec­tions. This pol­icy has to be right,” he said.

As a for­mer state leg­is­la­tor, Dur­rette said he has heard dis­tricts re­ferred to by the name of the per­son who rep­re­sents it.

“It is not their district,”

he said. “The process by which these lines are drawn be­long to the peo­ple of Vir­ginia.”

The state’s po­lit­i­cal par­ties were mixed in their re­ac­tion to the pro­posal. Democrats wel­comed it, while Repub­li­cans were­some­what dis­mis­sive.

“Our mem­bers look for­ward to work­ing with con­stituents, col­leagues, and ad­vo­cates to pass a con­sti­tu­tional amend­ment on re­dis­trict­ing re­form in the 2019 ses­sion,” said Trevor Souther­land, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the House Demo­cratic Cau­cus. “We have great hope that when the dis­tricts are re­drawn in 2021, it will be done by an in­de­pen­dent com­mis­sion.”

Parker W. Slay­baugh, spokesman for GOP House Speaker M. Kirk­land Cox of Colo­nial Heights, said last sum­mer’s re­dis­trict­ing hear­ings crit­i­cized by OneVir­ginia2021 show that the group “is hardly an ob­jec­tive voice on the is­sue of non­par­ti­san re­dis­trict­ing.” Slay­baugh claimed the group was re­spon­si­ble for the mil­lions of dol­lars in le­gal fees by chal­leng­ing the cur­rent map.

“How­ever, the draft­ing of a re­dis­trict­ing con­sti­tu­tional amend­ment will cer­tainly be a topic that comes up dur­ing the 2019 ses­sion,” Slay­baugh said. “There are a lot of pas­sion­ate ad­vo­cates on both sides of the aisle, and the amend­ment will have to go through the leg­isla­tive process along with the many other res­o­lu­tions that will be pre­sented come Jan­uary.”

Bill Atkin­son may be reached at 804-722-5167 or batkin­[email protected]­gressin­dex.com. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @BAtkin­sonpi

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