Our View: GOP redistricting scheme
Posted: January 25, 2013
When first we heard of the “Inauguration Day Surprise” pulled off by state Senate Republicans, our first thought was, “This won’t end well.” Nor should it.
What the John Watkins-led Republicans did, in case you haven’t heard, was use the absence of a key Democratic lawmaker — Richmond Sen. Henry Marsh, who was attending the presidential festivities in Washington — in the evenly divided body to redraw the Senate districts. Though this stealthy plan does create a new minority-majority district in Southside, it erases a Democratic seat in western Virginia and, overall, will favor the GOP in coming elections.
Democrats, predictably, responded in outrage. The usual combustible worthies, Don McEachin of Henrico in the van, boiled. And the party’s Senate leader, Dick Saslaw, did what he always does — cut immediately to the political chase, declaring “transportation (Gov. McDonnell’s roads initiative) over.”
We don’t hold much truck with such faux vitriol, particularly when we consider the Democrats’ lamentable long-term record on redistricting. We need only go back to 2011 to recall how, with ailing Sen. Fred Quayle sick in bed back home in Chesapeake, the Democrats moved his district to Northern Virginia. And, over a full century of total control in the General Assembly, Democrats belabored Virginians with such travesties as the multimember district.
Nonetheless, we do not subscribe to the “sauce for the goose, sauce for the gander” argument in this instance. What the Republicans did was wantonly, and needlessly, provocative — especially in a session with a great deal at stake politically. Mr. Watkins won no friends, we suspect, for his meritorious efforts to lift the state ban on uranium mining. What’s more, as Mr. Saslaw suggested, this bit of legerdemain may do harm to the governor’s transportation plan. Why give Dems more obstructionist talking points?
Even Mr. Watkins’ rationale for the move — that it would bring the state in closer compliance with federal civil-rights law pertinent to minority-majority districts — doesn’t pass the smell test. Why not simply draw such a district into the original redistricting plan?
In the end, perhaps cooler House heads will prevail. Speaker Bill Howell can rule the revised plan, currently embedded in a House bill, not germane. We hope he does — if only to save his fellow Republicans from their partisan selves.