Battle over congressional lines starts next week

Jeremy M. Lazarus | 8/13/2015, 1:42 p.m.
The battle over the map of Virginia’s congressional districts is about to get underway. Next week, the Republican-dominated General Assembly ...
Rep. Scott

The battle over the map of Virginia’s congressional districts is about to get underway.

Next week, the Republican-dominated General Assembly will return for a special session that Gov. Terry McAuliffe called with the goal of making changes to the 2012-approved map to satisfy a federal court.

The court ordered the map redrawn by Sept. 1 after finding the current district boundaries are illegal for emphasizing race and improperly packing African-Americans into the 3rd Congressional District that Rep. Robert C. “Bobby” Scott, Virginia’s lone black congressman, represents.

But it is unclear if the redistricting legislative session will be successful. The court could end up having to redraw the lines if Gov. McAuliffe and his allies and the GOP leadership fail to find common ground, an increasingly likely scenario.

Republicans and Democrats are on different mapping wavelengths — and there also is the tempest between Gov. McAuliffe and the GOP legislative leaders over the election of a new state Supreme Court justice that will play out at the session.

Gov. McAuliffe could veto any Republican plan he and his allies dislike, while the GOP can use their committee control and voting power to kill any Democratic plan.

So far, Republicans have yet to go public with their map proposals. They also rejected an offer from Gov. McAuliffe to sit down in advance of the session and hammer out a compromise. However, there are indications the Republicans want to make only minor changes to the 3rd Congressional District.

Meanwhile, others want major changes, including Gov. McAuliffe, who wants to start from scratch and do a major overhaul.

For example, the Virginia State Conference of NAACP is preparing to unveil a proposal to redraw the 4th Congressional District, now represented by Republican J. Randy Forbes, into a district where the majority of voters are African-American, the Free Press has learned.

According to several people involved, the NAACP proposal is expected to call for moving most of Richmond from the 3rd District into the 4th District. Along with other changes, moving Richmond would boost the African-American population in the 4th District to 56 percent. Under the proposal, the now majority-black 3rd Congressional District would remain a majority-minority district, with about 48 percent of the population African-American and 4 percent Asian, Latino and other minorities. The remainder of the population would be white.

Meanwhile, a Democratic leadership team plans to present a new map aimed at increasing the party’s chances of winning five of the 11 districts, instead of being limited to three districts as is the case under the current plan.

That plan also would reduce the African-American presence in the 3rd District, but transform the now Republican-heavy 4th and 5th Congressional districts into majority Democratic districts and turn the 10th Congressional District into a swing district with a more equal split between Democrats and Republicans.

GOP Congressman Robert Hurt currently represents the 5th District, while Republican Barbara Comstock represents the 10th.

“The map would better reflect the current reality that Virginia is a purple state,” said state Sen. A. Donald McEachin, D-Henrico, the leader of the Senate Democratic Caucus who confirmed the outlines of the plan.

Sen. McEachin said other key players involved in drawing the map include House Minority Leader David Toscano, Alexandria Delegate, and former state Democratic Party Chairwoman Charniele Herring and Hampton Sen. Mamie E. Locke, chair of the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus.

Separately, Northern Virginia Delegate John C. “Chap” Petersen, a Democrat, is pushing what he calls a nonpartisan plan that would overhaul at least nine of the congressional districts, but leave the 3rd Congressional District as the only majority-minority district.