Re-districting, once again, is the talk of the session down in Richmond. The Senate pushed through a re-districting plan that corrects the ridiculous districts drawn by Senator George Barker (D-39th). Yesterday the Speaker of the House Bill Howell (R-28th) swashed it saying that the bill was not germane to this session. He is right.
The lines drawn by Barker really do need to change. The Ds wanted to share the wealth of eastern Fairfax, Alexandria and Arlington, so they drew districts with arms that reach out to those favorable areas and then snake back through parts of Fairfax making the whole county solid for Democrats. Barker’s 39th is the most blatant example of selfish gerrymandering. Barker lives in Clifton, he does not shop at Landmark Mall, but Landmark and six precincts in Alexandria are joined with Clifton solely because those precincts will help re-elect any Democrat. Simply put, the people of Clifton and the people of Alexandria do not live in the same community. The pickup trucks with clever pro- 2nd Amendment bumper stickers are not found in urban Alexandria just like the Priuses with anti-Bush bumper stickers are not found in rural Clifton. And that creates a problem. Legislative districts should be drawn based on communities. The lines should create no bottlenecks, no snakes or salamanders, no arms reaching out to grab whatever precinct an incumbent needs. Clifton should be with Centreville and Alexandria should be by itself. A cohesive community drawn as a legislative district is the proper way to have true representation in a democracy.
But we aren’t going to have that because we have entrusted legislators with the responsibility of drawing their own lines, so of course incumbents draw lines that favor their re-election. Don’t think one party does it more than the other, but also don’t jump to accuse those legislators of being evil. Believe it or not, those individuals in office actually think that they are there to do some good (with certain exceptions). So when they are asked to draw their own district they drew what would help them stay in office so that they can push their agenda, which they believe is for the greater good. It’s selfish but it’s not. It’s more undemocratic than anything else and it needs to change. An unbiased outside observer should draw lines based on community active such as same High Schools, grocery stores, major developments and neighborhoods.
The Senate tried to correct the lines of the most egregious districts, such as Barker’s 39th. Under the Senate’s proposal the 39th would lose Alexandria and Landmark and gain more of Centreville and Prince William County, which painfully makes sense. Senate Republicans cited the need to comply with the Justice Department as their reason to make their corrections. That I don’t like. That position directly contradicts what has been, for the most part, a bi-partisan effort to get the Justice Department off our back. We can’t say for years and years that we don’t need the Justice Department’s guidelines and oversight and then turn around and use the Justice Department as means after the fact to overturn something that our state has already decided on. Exactly which side of the federal/state relationship are Senate Republicans on? The problem is that we are too late.
Unfortunately, Barker and his friends got away with their gerrymandering. The Speaker is right to say re-districting is not germane to this session. And using the feds to force a state to change what it has legally done just ain’t a position Republicans should take.