Virginia Redistribution Commission implodes | Securities


The committee, which has held regular meetings for over a month, has never failed to reach agreement on the final maps of the General Assembly. Partisanship dominated the process from the start, with the commission hiring two teams of openly partisan consultants and repeatedly failing to agree on how to merge two sets of cards.

The process now appears to be headed for the Virginia Supreme Court, unless the three Democratic walkouts change their minds and agree to meet again. But that seems unlikely given the end of Friday’s meeting.

The stalemate reached a breaking point as the committee failed to agree on which cards to use as a starting point for its latest push towards a deal. The eight Democrats on the committee voted to start with a map of the House of Delegates drawn by Republicans and a map of the Senate drawn by Democrats. Republicans voted against the offer and suggested keeping a GOP and Democratic Senate card alive – a proposal all eight Democrats rejected.

This prompted Democratic Co-Chair Greta Harris to step down. If the commission is to operate in 2031, she said, there should be no lawmakers and all members should be required to take a history class to understand why black commissioners were so committed to protecting power. minority vote.

“I think our job is done,” Harris said. “And what a pity. “

After a brief recess, Democrats offered to adjourn the meeting. That effort failed when two Democrats voted with Republicans to continue working toward a compromise. But Harris and two other Democratic citizens, James Abrenio and Brandon Hutchins, simply walked out of the room, making it clear they felt further negotiations with the Republicans would be pointless.

Harris and Abrenio appealed directly to the Supreme Court, saying they hoped the justices, who lean towards the Tories, will do a better job of upholding the principles of fairness the commission was meant to embody.

“I don’t ever want to be involved in this again. Because it’s not fair, ”Abrenio said. “I’m sorry to all of you that I couldn’t do the job. “

Republicans have said they object to working with the Democrats-drawn Senate proposal because it was not revealed until Friday morning, after a week of public hearings where citizens were unable to see it. .

“The last time I checked there was no public comment on this map,” Republican Commissioner Jose Feliciano said.

While it’s clear the committee was only voting on which maps to use as a starting point, Sen. Ryan McDougle, R-Hanover, said he wanted to compare and contrast two Senate proposals instead of being linked. to one.

“I don’t understand how the spirit of compromise and collaboration isn’t about looking at what those differences are, talking about those differences and trying to come to a resolution about them,” McDougle said.

Senator Bill Stanley, R-Franklin, urged the commission to continue.

“I remember when they choose a pope there are a lot of tied votes before they get to white smoke,” Stanley said. “They’re not giving up.”

Democrats said Republicans’ speeches ringed hollow, calling for a spirit of compromise that cannot be found when it comes time to vote.

“Let’s face it what’s going on here,” said Democrat Sean Kumar, who voted to continue working and remained in the room as other Democratic Citizen members left. “I’m sorry, this speech was inconsistent with what we saw. There was no will to really try to start even with a mutual starting point. “

The committee met at 9 a.m. on Friday. The abrupt end of the meeting came around 2:45 p.m., leaving the remaining commissioners unsure of what to do.

The remaining Commissioners were told that they probably should not continue to conduct business without a quorum. Republican Co-Chair Mackenzie Babichenko expressed aloud that she alone could perhaps call another meeting without Harris, her partner in coordinating the committee’s work.

“Whether we will have a quorum at that time, that remains to be seen,” she said.

Although the committee only discussed redrawing the maps of the General Assembly, it was supposed to continue by redrawing the maps of the Virginia Congress later this year. It is not clear whether the commissioners have the will to attempt this task or whether they will simply ask the Supreme Court to take charge of the redistribution.

The commission, made up of eight sitting lawmakers and eight citizens appointed by General Assembly leaders and selected by retired judges, was the result of years of advocacy by redistribution reformers who wanted to deprive the legislature of its powers of gerrymander. Although many called for a completely non-partisan commission with no lawmakers involved, this concept did not have enough support to pass the General Assembly.

The hybrid commission passed the General Assembly two years in a row, and voters overwhelmingly approved it last year.

Members of the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus strongly opposed the commission, arguing it would not do enough to protect minority voting rights. Race has proven to be a key sticking point, with partisan lawyers offering conflicting advice on when the commission can and cannot use racial demographics to guide its map-drawing decisions.

After winning a majority in 2019, many House Democrats strongly objected to the commission’s idea, saying it would inevitably lead to a deadlock that would put the Supreme Court’s redistribution back into conservative leanings.

But some Democrats felt the outcome wouldn’t be as dire as expected and could actually bring the state closer to the goal of removing lawmakers from the process altogether.

The court must follow criteria requiring geographic compactness and racial and political fairness. Instead of the judges drawing maps themselves, the process asks the court to select two external experts, from lists of candidates submitted by each political party, who will present the plans to the court for approval.

The state’s high court has already sided with the Democrats in the 2021 cycle’s first redistribution trial, rejecting a Republican attempt to overturn a new Democratic law requiring prisoners to be counted as residents of their hometowns, and not where they are incarcerated.

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