Group reveals redistricting plan
Citizen-driven 10-member panel is proposed to draw new legislative districts
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
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