Monday night’s Republican-led effort to redistrict Virginia's state senate would push Alexandria voters out of the districts of Virginia Sens. George Barker (D-39th) and Dick Saslaw (D-35th).
The changes, which were introduced as an amendment to a larger bill late Monday, are awaiting House approval and would take effect in 2015. However, Democrats, including Barker, said the move is unconstitutional at best.
Republicans called the redistricting attempt "an effort to create another majority black Senate district." It comes two years after Gov. Bob McDonnell signed the state's traditional redistricting plan, crafted every 10 years with census data in years that end in "1."
However, introducing yet another plan is unconstitutional, Senate Democrats say, because 2013 does not end in “1.” Further, voting while Democratic State Sen. Harry Marsh, a 79-year-old civil rights leader, traveled to Washington for President Barack Obama's second inauguration was "underhanded."
The proposed changes would move nearly 2.8 million Virginians who were of voting age in the 2010 U.S. Census into new districts. The changes, then, would affect more than 40 percent of Virginia's 6.1 million voting-age residents, according to Democratic analyst Kenton Ngo.
Sen. Adam Ebbin, who under the proposal would represent all of the city of Alexandria, said the move by senate Republicans was "a sham."
Ebbin told Patch Tuesday afternoon, "It is unprecedented to have redistricting more than once every 10 years. Further, redistricting is normally done with hearings, public notice, public comment and the ability for members to see the proposals in advance."
"To have it slapped on our desk with no warning on a day that a member is absent ... is unconscionable," Ebbin said.
Changes to Alexandria’s Representation in Richmond
Barker, who right now represents a large swath of the western half of Alexandria from Quaker Lane to Landmark, would see his district move southwest out of the greater Alexandria area. Barker, a Democrat, would represent a more Republican-leaning area than his current district.
In a statement released by the Virginia State Democratic Caucus Monday evening, Barker said, “The Virginia Constitution says re-districting should take place ‘in the year 2011 and every ten years thereafter.’ It makes no provision for reapportionment in any year that doesn’t end in ‘one.’ A Circuit Court judge recently ruled that the Virginia Constitution does not allow for re-redistricting, which is what this bill would do, in order 'to preclude ‘politically convenient’ redistricting whenever one political party or the other might gain the upper hand.' This type of action is not permissible under the Constitution.”
Ebbin, who currently represents the eastern portion of Alexandria, part of Arlington and the Fairfax County areas of Rose Hill, Belle Haven, Fort Hunt and Mount Vernon, would lose several of those Fairfax County areas but gain more of Alexandria and the Bailey’s Crossroads area. Ebbin’s proposed area would lean more strongly toward Democrats.
On Twitter Monday evening, Ebbin wrote, “VA Senate GOP trying to redistrict w/ substitute bill with no notice in violation of our state Constitution.”
Saslaw, the Senate Democratic Leader who currently represents some of the Landmark and Alexandria West End areas, would also move out of the city of Alexandria and start representing Fairfax County residents west of Alexandria’s city border, including much of Annandale and Vienna. Saslaw’s district would also shift slightly more Republican.
For a map of all district changes under the proposed Republican plan, see this interactive from the Virginia Public Access Project.
Kaine, Warner Weigh In
In a joint statement released Tuesday, U.S. Sens. Tim Kaine and Mark Warner, both Democrats, said:
"On a day when Americans celebrated Martin Luther King, Jr.'s birthday and inaugurated Barack Obama as President, Virginia Senate Republicans took advantage of the absence of civil rights leader Sen. Henry Marsh to push through a hyper-partisan change to Virginia's already gerrymandered legislative district map.
"This is not the way we should be conducting the people’s business in Virginia. We are encouraged by Governor McDonnell’s statements today expressing disapproval of the tactics that were used. We urge legislative leaders and other elected officials to do the right thing to correct this disappointing and disruptive partisan action.”