Augusta Free Press

Bill changing redistricting criteria passes State Senate

A bill championed by Senator David Suetterlein (R-Roanoke County), SB 106 — which changes redistricting criteria to make political subdivisions the primary factor in the redrawing of districts  passed the Virginia Senate on a near party-line vote, just one day after the bill was amended on the Floor causing this dramatic policy shift. Both days saw heated debate on the Senate Floor, with Senate Democrats objecting to the sudden change.

Senator George Barker (D-Fairfax) said, “This is a very significant issue that we have before us and we have to look at it very carefully. We have to make sure that we go about this to ensure that the lines are drawn legally and fairly.We have to keep in mind that we are one Commonwealth and not 130 some odd sovereign entities that have to have their own territories respected in regards to this situation.”

Senator Jennifer McClellan (D-Richmond) said, “It appears to put political subdivisions and boundaries above all, but you can deviate from political subdivision if it’s necessary to meet other criteria, but it doesn’t rank the order on how we look at those other criteria. I agree with the criteria, I have voted in the past on bills with this criteria, but this particular bill is in-artfully drawn. It is more important to keep communities of interest together– rather than hold sacrosanct artificial county and city lines.  I feel that this substitute is not ready for primetime, and it’s probably premature due to the pending federal court cases on how we use race in drawing these district boundaries—and for that reason I can’t support this bill.”

Senator John Edwards (D-Roanoke City) said, “Counties in Virginia were originally set up so a citizen in the county could get to the county seat by horseback in a day. Things have changed dramatically since then. This bill is going to allow that antiquated system to trump any other consideration in how we draw our legislative lines in Virginia. You are putting legislative lines on top of 19th century locality lines that  do not necessarily relate to communities of interest in the 21st century. It makes absolutely no sense.”

Senator Creigh Deeds (D-Bath) said “I am not going to vote for this bill because it placed es one criterion, political subdivision lines, above all others. I think the people that want redistricting reform are interested in districts that produce more competitive races and the competitive races are not the end in themselves – the competitive races, they hope, will produce a legislative body that is more conducive to solving problem and not just a polarized debating society.”