Reposted from Daily Kos Elections by David Nir
• VA Redistricting: Well, it turns out you miss some stuff if you take off for Martin Luther King, Jr. Day/Inauguration Day—particularly if someone is trying to take advantage of the double celebration to sneak things past you. That’s what Virginia Republicans did on Monday, though, ramming through a new version of the state Senate map on a 20-19 party line vote with minimal debate. Virginia, like almost every other state, already conducted decennial redistricting in 2011 (following the release of new census data), but at the time, Democrats still held a majority in the Senate and lines nominally favorable to them were drawn. But the map wasn’t very good, and Dems wound up losing control of the chamber that November, with the GOP able to cement power despite each party holding 20 seats because Republican Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling would break all ties in their favor (something he’s done a record number of times).
Of course, why should that be enough for Virginia Republicans when they can have even more majority! Thus came Monday’s re-redistricting effort, which passed without Bolling because Dem state Sen. Henry Marsh was in DC for Barack Obama’s second inauguration. (I told you the whole Inauguration Day thing was deliberate.) It’s not entirely clear exactly what havoc the proposed new lines will wreak, but you can be sure they will only help Republicans. In the main, they appear to pack African American voters into a sixth majority-minority district in the rural southern part of the state, which would make surrounding districts less competitive and thus more likely to favor the GOP.
But there is some good news here: It’s no sure thing that this new map will see the light of day. Thanks to Virginia’s toughest-in-the-nation single-term limit, Republican Gov. Bob McDonnell can’t seek re-election this fall, and is thus a lot more immune to classic forms of pressure than he might otherwise be. He also likely has his eye on the presidency, which is why he criticized his own party in the wake of the vote, saying “I certainly don’t think that’s a good way to do business.” McDonnell hasn’t said whether he’d veto the plan, but right now, his silence speaks volumes.
There are also legal angles to consider. In particular, Virginia Democrats are quite insistent that the state constitution forbids mid-decade redistricting and are promising to sue. First, though, the state House would have to pass the new legislation, though the body is firmly in GOP control and presumably that won’t be a problem. But McDonnell would also have to sign it into law, and that, of course, remains an open question. Whatever happens, though, we’ll be following all further developments of this power grab very closely.
P.S. Democratic strategist Kenton Ngo has worked up some actual maps based on the text of the legislation. (And that’s another sign of underhandedness: only releasing a description of new lines, rather than proper maps.)