Virginia Republicans Ram Through Redistricting Plan While Black Civil Rights Veteran Senator is Out of Town

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
Jan. 22 2013 12:19 PM

Virginia Republicans Ram Through Redistricting Plan While Black Civil Rights Veteran Senator is Out of Town

You hardly need to continue past the headline, but Evan McMorris-Santoro was efficient and wise enough to report this out yesterday. Over the course of a few hours, the Republicans in Virginia's State Senate pushed through a mid-decade redistricting designed to eliminate the seat of Sen. Creigh Deeds, a rural Democrat who lost the 2009 gubernatorial election and who favors non-partisan redistricting. The new map would create a majority-minority seat at his expense -- exactly like the redistricting plans in North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and other Republican-run states, which minimized Democratic votes by shoring up urban districts and leaving the suburbs to white Republicans.

Why yesterday? Sen. Henry Marsh, a 79-year old black Democrat and pioneering civil rights attorney, was two hours away from the Senate, attending the presidential inauguration. It let Republicans win a 20-19 vote. Had the 20th "no" appeared, Lt. Gov Bill Bolling -- who's considering an independent bid for governor -- would have cast the tie-breaker, and killed it. It would have drawn a fresh contrast with AG Ken Cuccinelli, who's asked the DOJ to let Virginia approve maps without running it by the feds (a condition of the Voting Rights Act).

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Ben Tribbett, the great state politics blogger (and Democratic strategist, full disclosure), suggests that the new map could turn the 20-20 split into a 27-13 Republican supermajority. Will the new heat and attention kill it, by getting Gov. Bob McDonnell to veto it? Possibly. But two hours up the road, in D.C., Republicans are getting ready to attack Democrats for (potentially) reforming the filibuster with 51 of 100 votes. They'll call it a power grab. If Virginia, simultaneously, goes forward with this chicanery, it's kind of a beam-in-your-eye situation.

AMMENDUM: Why is this legal, anyway? In 2003, a new Republican majority in the Texas legislature attacked the congressional map developed by both parties in 2001. They forced through a gerrymander that ousted most of the state's white Democrats; Democrats, in a vain attempt to stop this, had fled the state to deny a quorum. In 2006, the Supreme Court upheld the mid-decade redistricting. Curiously, only Republican legislatures have taken advantage of this.

David Weigel is a former Slate political reporter. 

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