State Senate, House Dems Clash On Strategy for Redistricting

A major shake-up of the boundary lines of Northern Virginia’s representatives to the state legislature in Richmond could be in store early next year.



STATE SEN. Dick Saslaw spoke in Falls Church last week. (Photo: News-Press)


A major shake-up of the boundary lines of Northern Virginia’s representatives to the state legislature in Richmond could be in store early next year.

In what has broken out as a major conflict between leaders of the Democratic-controlled State Senate and the Democratic minority in the House of Delegates, there are widely differing views on how Democrats should deal with the re-districting process that occurs every 10 years in the state legislature.

Operating with the result of the U.S. Census that is now underway, the legislature will figure out how to redesign boundaries for state senate, state delegate and U.S. Congressional seats based on shifts in population trends.

However, despite growing calls for the process to be handled in a bi-partisan manner, the next re-districting could prove to be one of the most partisan in its determination ever in Virginia.

That’s caused in part by the fact that, for the first time ever for a redistricting process in Virginia, the House of Delegates and the State Senate are each controlled by a different political party.

According to what Senate Majority Leader Dick Saslaw told a meeting of the Northern Virginia Democratic Business Council in Falls Church last week, the Democrats in control of the Senate have decided to cut a de facto deal with the Republicans who control the House.

That is, according to Saslaw, the Senate will determine its own re-districting, and the House will determine its own. Republican Governor Bob McDonnell, he surmised, will be hard-pressed to veto what emerges from such an arrangement, because that would undermine the free reign the House Republicans will have to re-design all State Delegate districts in the commonwealth to their liking.

But that prospect does not please many Democrats in the House of Delegates, including Del. Jim Scott, who represents the 53rd District that includes the City of Falls Church. In fact, Scott is very upset by Saslaw’s plan.

“I am very disappointed that the Senate Democrats decided not to follow the unanimous vote they gave to a bill calling for the formation of a Bipartisan Redistricting Commission to deal equitably with the redistricting of both House and Senate districts,” Scott told the News-Press in an interview this week.

Last February, the Senate voted unanimously in support of Senate Bill 173, calling for the creation of such a bipartisan commission.

“Now,” Scott said, “The Senate has apparently decided to repudiate that call, and allow for a totally partisan process in both houses.”

But speaking in Falls Church last Friday, Saslaw responded to a question from the News-Press by saying, “There is no way we will put the Senate at risk with some kind of contentious fight” over re-districting next January. “We are not going to take control of the House, anyway, no matter what.”

“A bird in hand is worth two in the bush,” he said, and he discussed how the Senate districts could be redesigned, with one new district due to population growth likely. He talked about redesigning the 31st State Senate District represented by Sen. Mary Margaret Whipple that includes Falls Church, and of moving the boundaries of other Northern Virginia districts to advantage his party.

But that means, without a credible Democratic challenge, the Republicans who control the House of Delegates will have the same freedom to redesign districts to their perceived advantage.

Scott is worried for a repeat of what happened in 2001, when the 38th District was moved out of the City of Falls Church by the Republican-controlled House, and the 53rd moved in, because the Republicans thought Falls Church Councilman David Snyder, a popular moderate Republican in Falls Church, stood a chance of defeating Scott.

That turned out not to be the case. Still, the GOP also redesigned other area districts to put, in one case, three elected Democrats in the same district, requiring them to either move or run against each other.

According to Scott, the Senate Democrats could achieve the spirit of the Bipartisan Redistricting Commission bill that it passed unanimously in February (which was killed in the House) if they took a combative approach to the upcoming redistricting process.

“While both houses pass their own bills on redistricting, they then have to come to a compromise on a single bill before it goes to the governor for his signature,” Scott said.

“All the Senate Democrats would need to do is refuse to agree to a House bill that included too many partisan gains for the Republicans. As long as they continued to do that, it would eventually force a bipartisan solution,” Scott said. “By this means, the State Democrats would achieve what they voted unanimously to achieve in S.B. 173.”