Rumors are swirling around Northern Virginia that when it comes to re-shaping the state legislative and U.S. congressional districts by the Virginia State Legislature next month, the tiny City of Falls Church could wind up once again the neglected step child of a bigger process.
If such a fate is to be avoided, Falls Church is going to have to act like the “mouse that roared” to get Richmond’s attention.
The rumors have it that Falls Church is going to be moved out of its traditional representation by the 31st Senate District, which includes most of Arlington and has been deftly represented by Sen. Mary Margaret Whipple since 1996. A draft plan, worked up by Democrats, no less, moves Falls Church into the 32nd District, represented by Sen. Janet Howell.
Now, there’s nothing at all wrong with the talents of Sen. Howell, but that’s not the point in this case. The fact is that tentative redistricting scenarios crafted by the Democrats aim at marginally strengthening Howell’s partisan support in her district, while the 31st is a slam-dunk for Democrats with or without Falls Church.
Falls Church, of course, is despite its tiny relative size, a stalwart bastion of high voter-turnout Democratic preference. As such, one would think it would be able to have a seat at the table of determining its destiny under the new district realigning. Well, this has yet to be determined, to say the least.
Many in the Democratic Party are not happy with Democratic Sen. Dick Saslaw’s leadership of the Senate Majority Caucus, as he has spearheaded what some think is a devil’s compact with his Republican counterparts, who happen to control the House of Delegates.
Saslaw’s deal allows Democrats essentially unfettered control in redesigning state Senate districts, in exchange for allowing the Republicans to do the same with the House of Delegate districts. Among those who’ve howled about this plan is the state delegate who represents Falls Church, Del. Jim Scott.
Scott has argued that if the Democratic leadership in Richmond forced the issue, there could be an equally bi-partisan approach to redistricting of both Senate and Delegate districts. As it is, however, Scott’s new district will be redrawn entirely at the whim of his political adversaries, and since his 53rd District currently borders on others more pro-Republican, he’s properly worried that he might be redistricted to his peril in November’s elections.
But if the Democrats in Richmond can be blamed for this by cutting the deal with Republicans, then they can be blamed, as well, for their indifference to Falls Church if the City gets dumped into Howell’s district.
Falls Church is the spiritual sister of Arlington, far more than Fairfax County, where it has encountered a bruising adversarial relationship over years around water system and other issues. There’s a reason Falls Church shifted out of Fairfax into the Arlington Court system two decades ago, and that preference should be respected by Democrats in the state legislature now.