ICYMI: Virginia’s redistricting dilemma

3rdCDMy latest op-ed, title above, appeared in The Virginian-Pilot Thursday. In it, I discuss the effects of the U.S. Supreme court decision in Shelby on the upcoming redrawing of Virginia’s 3rd – and surrounding – congressional district.

I covered some of this ground in my earlier op-eds, particularly just after Shelby and after a bill was introduced to fix it. Our do-nothing Congress has chosen to not act on it. So Virginia finds itself redrawing lines without a real clear set of rules to rely on. Even the court in the 3rd district decision (pdf) didn’t quite address this.

But the district court cited something that really jumped out at me, from an earlier decision, Shaw v. Reno:

Racial classifications with respect to voting carry particular dangers. Racial gerrymandering, even for remedial purposes, may balkanize us into competing racial factions; it threatens to carry us further from the goal of a political system in which race no longer matters…

One of the books that influenced my thinking about redistricting was Thomas F. Schaller’s “Whistling Past Dixie.” As I read the book, I posted reviews of the chapters. Here’s the one from Chapter 3. Schaller calls the relationship between black politicians and Republicans “an unholy alliance.” I wrote:

Racial gerrymandering – the packing of as many blacks into as few districts as possible – has aided the cause of Republicans as they have taken over state legislative seats and majorities throughout the South. As the result, Schaller says, only two types of Democratic legislators remain: conservative whites who distance themselves from the national party and young minorities elected from the majority-minority districts.

Um, yeah. Which is one of the many reasons why we need to return to the basic principles of redistricting.

Virginia’s new redistricting plan should conform to the principles of redistricting – compact and contiguous districts that protect communities of interest. Period.

Further, the plan should ignore the common practice of protecting incumbents. Elections are not about them; they are about us.

No voter should be disenfranchised by districts drawn that lack competition. Virginia, as a whole, has demonstrated it is competitive statewide; the same should be true within each electoral district.

Be very clear about what I’m saying here: no voter – white, black, Democrat, Republican, or any other classification – should be disenfranchised. Can you imagine districts being drawn based on gender? That’s the same thing here.

That isn’t saying Virginia has to ignore its past, but we need to move forward. And that means drawing lines that benefit the voters, not the politicians.

(Oh – and when I say “Virginia,” I’m including Norfolk in that, too. I’ll have more to say about the elected school boards and the claim that they have to be elected by wards in another post.)

My column appears in The Virginian-Pilot every week, usually on Thursdays. You can see the columns as they are published here, or navigate to them from the PilotOnline.com homepage by clicking on Opinion and then choosing my name at the bottom of the dropdown list. You can also see the columns by liking my Facebook page. Although my column appears weekly, I am not and have never been an employee of The Virginian-Pilot nor am I paid for my contributions to the paper.