While constituents – and one Democratic representative – were distracted by President Obama’s second Inaugural Address and MLK Day on Monday, Virginia State Senate Republicans were quick to move to implement part of their post-election agenda: redistricting.
According to ThinkProgress, Democratic Senator Henry Marsh, a civil rights hero, was temporarily absent from the legislature to attend the inaugural ceremonies in Washington, D.C., leaving the State Senate briefly lopsided at 20 Republicans and 19 Democrats available to vote. Republicans swiftly took advantage of this scenario, pushing through a redistricting bill that opponents described as "gerrymandering."
The bill’s sponsor, Sen. John Watkins, defended the legislation as creating another majority black district. What he left out is that it accomplishes this by rearranging the lines to push black, minority, and Democratic voters into smaller, more compact districts.
Virginia politics blogger Ben Tribbet warns that the move will certainly cost Virginia Democrats at least one seat, while his blog details how the new plan could potentially create a Republican supermajority: in theory, the new districts are so lopsided – and so effectively segregate minority and Democratic voters – that the new Republican-Democrat split could be as high as 27/13.
Reporter Chelyen Davis was able to snag a quote from a spokeswoman for Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling, a Republican, who would have been the tie-breaking vote on the bill if Marsh had not been absent. The spokeswoman said that he would have voted against the plan: Bolling “has grave concerns … it’s not something he supported.”
Calling the bill “secretive and underhanded,” Democratic Sen. Don McEachin said that “We talk about the dangers of legislating on the fly. Well, this is the ultimate in danger. The public has no idea what we’re about to do adopting this substitute, nor would they know in the next three days that it would take for this bill to ultimately pass.”
As ThinkProgress comments, Virginia Republicans have had their eye set on redistricting for quite some time in an effort to re-establish dominance over the changing state. In December 2010, Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli declared that the state has “outgrown” racism, and as such, should be made exempt from the Voting Right Act’s redistricting requirements.