Black Voters Key in Debate Over New Virginia Map

Posted March 30, 2011 at 6:00pm

Virginia is moving its redistricting process along faster than other states because of state legislative elections in November, but the Congressional map remains in fluid form. It is not expected to be debated until the week of April 11.

With looming state legislative elections, the General Assembly is first taking up the state House and Senate maps. Data and figures from the newly drawn state legislative districts were released Tuesday, and the focus of next week’s veto session will be on approving those maps.

A state Republican source familiar with the negotiations said the Congressional map may not be finalized for a few weeks — the week of April 11 at the earliest and as late as the week of April 25.

Gov. Bob McDonnell (R) tasked a newly formed bipartisan advisory commission to offer independent guidance to what is a decennially partisan process. With Democrats in control of the state Senate and Republicans holding the House of Delegates, the final plan will require bipartisan support.

George Mason University professor Michael McDonald, an adviser to the commission, said the division of power and Democrats’ slim hold on the state Senate could cause further delay in agreement on a Congressional map.

“What is likely to happen with these maps is the Democrats in the state Senate are going to hold the Congressional map hostage until they get a deal on the state legislative maps,” he said.

“That’s their overall concern — we have a divided legislature, and they’re worried they won’t get a deal on the state Senate map,” McDonald added.

He confirmed the existence of a map proposal that would solidify the current 8-3 partisan breakdown of the Congressional delegation. That incumbent protection plan would especially help Rep. Gerry Connolly (D), he said, whose Northern Virginia district is the most competitive.

Other maps will be negotiated, however, and the advisory commission has produced three maps of its own, including one agreed to on Wednesday. Those will be submitted to the General Assembly next week.

Jim Dyke, a partner at McGuire Woods who sits on the advisory commission, said the third map increases the percentage of African-Americans in the majority-
minority 3rd district of Rep. Bobby Scott (D).

Meanwhile, there is a push by state Senate Democrats to increase the number of voting-age African-Americans in Republican Rep. Randy Forbes’ 4th district, which in its current form is already more than one-third African-American.

With the state’s current black population at 20 percent, the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus increased its push last week to add another Congressional district to at least come close to being majority-minority.

State Sen. Mamie Locke (D), chairwoman of the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus and a leader in the push for allowing for greater African-American influence on Congressional elections, said in an interview that everything remains up in the air at this point.

“We’ve gotten a preliminary drawing for what the 4th and the 3rd districts could look like that was done by a professor at Norfolk State,” she said. “But we also have a couple of Senators and the Division of Legislative Services working on a plan.”

The second plan, she said, would make the 4th district majority-minority and push Scott’s 3rd district below 50 percent African-American.

“One of the issues that’s likely to arise is how is the Justice Department going to respond to the plans that Virginia sends them,” commission Chairman Bob Holsworth said of Virginia’s status as a Voting Rights Act state.

Holsworth noted that “there is a significant minority presence in the areas in and around Forbes’ district,” and the Department of Justice could decide it should be minority-influenced, as the black caucus has indicated it wants.

Scott, now in his 10th term in Congress, has never faced a competitive election. Forbes has also won easily since winning a competitive special election shortly before the Congressional districts were redrawn in 2001.

Forbes’ 4th district currently runs from the western and southern suburbs of Richmond south to the North Carolina border and east to include the independent cities of Suffolk and Chesapeake.

Charles City currently resides just inside the 3rd district border, but under a proposed plan, it could be among the areas pushed into the 4th district to increase the African-American population.

State Sen. Don McEachin (D), another member of the caucus, said they “have been in dialogue with Rep. Scott every step of the way, and he is aware of the plans” regarding the possibility of removing portions of his Richmond- and Hampton Roads-based district.

If part of McEachin’s state Senate district, which includes Charles City, is pushed inside the 4th district, one source said he could be looking to challenge Forbes in a newly competitive district next year.

Asked whether he would consider challenging Forbes, McEachin told Roll Call, “My 2011 re-election is the object of my focus.”

Other questions about how the final map will be drawn include whether Roanoke moves out of GOP Rep. Bob Goodlatte’s 6th district, how far Republican Rep. Scott Rigell’s 2nd district moves north on the peninsula and whether House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R) loses parts of Democratic trending counties of Orange and Culpepper.

Sources said Republican Rep. Morgan Griffith’s hometown of Salem is likely to move into his 9th district.

The three maps adopted by the advisory commission make each district more compact and concise, Dyke said.

Those maps will be introduced in bill form, but McDonald said it is “unlikely” any of them will be approved by the divided General Assembly.

Several maps created by college students will also be introduced, but the final map is expected to be the result of private partisan negotiations and deals, he said.

Christina Bellantoni contributed to this report.