Local Commentary

Senator Whipple’s Richmond Report

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Last week marked the end of the legislative redistricting process after a redraft of the senate plan won bipartisan support and the signature of the Governor. Now the focus shifts to the Department of Justice and, possibly, lawsuits and court action. As of now, this year’s primaries are scheduled to be held on August 23, with candidate filings due in June.

Last week marked the end of the legislative redistricting process after a redraft of the senate plan won bipartisan support and the signature of the Governor. Now the focus shifts to the Department of Justice and, possibly, lawsuits and court action. As of now, this year’s primaries are scheduled to be held on August 23, with candidate filings due in June.

Next comes the Congressional redistricting that will probably take place in a few weeks. There are two competing plans. The plan adopted by the House of Delegates is the one proposed by the Congressional delegation and can be characterized as an incumbent protection plan, or as the patron of the bill said, “it provides for continuity of representation.” The most unusual district in the plan is the 5th Congressional district that would run from the North Carolina border to Fauquier County.

The plan adopted by the Senate Privileges and Elections committee, not yet adopted by the full Senate, would create a second African-American congressional district. The 3rd district, currently held by Bobby Scott, would become a minority influence or opportunity district, while the 4th district, currently represented by Randy Forbes, would become a majority-minority district. (Northern Virginia districts are unchanged in this plan.)

Having two African-American districts would reflect the 19% population of African-Americans in Virginia. With 11 Congressional districts, that should mean 2.1 seats in Congress. I feel strongly that the Commonwealth should move to this more fair and equitable representation of an important part of our population.

The patron of the Senate bill is Senator Mamie Locke from Hampton who is chair of the Legislative Black Caucus. While urging her Senate colleagues to support her redistricting bill which would create this second minority influence Congressional district in Virginia, Senator Locke said “This plan will provide Virginia’s growing minority voting population with more representation and more influence in other districts. Our current map has wasted minority voting strength by packing minorities into districts at levels higher than necessary for minority voters to elect a candidate of choice.”

Civil rights attorney Al Smith commented that “It has been more than 40 years since the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, but there is still a lot of work that needs to be done to provide more minorities with equal voting rights. Minorities still face difficulties in electing a candidate of choice because our current district maps are packed at higher levels than necessary which essentially wastes votes. The Congressional redistricting map being proposed by Senator Locke is the first step the General Assembly should take in readdressing this issue,” said Smith.

When the Senate next meets, I expect it to adopt Senator Locke’s redistricting plan. Then the question will be whether the House and the Governor will support equitable representation of Virginia’s African- American citizens.


 

Senator Whipple represents the 31st District in the Virginia State Senate. She may be e-mailed at [email protected]