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Is Virginia a step closer to nonpartisan redistricting?

Story by Chris Graham

He’s been down this road before.
“It’s one of those situations where persistence pays off. This is an issue that I’ve worked on for a lot of years. It’s an issue where I’ve made very significant contributions. I picked up 10 more votes this year than I had last year coming out of the Senate – but it’s a different bill, it’s a different process,” Bath County Sen. Creigh Deeds said in an interview for today’s “Augusta Free Press Show,” talking up legislation that he introduced in this year’s Virginia General Assembly that would change the nature of political redistricting in the Commonwealth.

Deeds’ bill, Senate Bill 38, would establish a five-member temporary commission to prepare redistricting plans – with appointments to the commission made one each by the majority and minority leaders in the House of Delegates and Virginia Senate from a pool of 24 retired judges appointed by the Virginia Supreme Court. Those four appointees would then appoint a fifth member and chairman for the commission from the pool.

The commission would then be charged with the responsibility of devising redistricting plans that would ultimately need the approval of the General Assembly and the governor.

The approach is a different one for Deeds, long a champion of nonpartisan redistricting.

“What I’ve really worked on, what I’ve been consistent with respect to the bills that I’ve introduced, is that they by and large contain independent commissions to create and draw this plan independent of the legislature that’s imposed on the legislative districts. That’s not the process that’s going forward in (Senate) Bill 38,” Deeds said.

“That process is a bipartisan commission that independent of the legislature that comes up with a plan that then goes to the legislature and becomes like any other bill. But the process is similar enough to what’s worked quite well in Iowa over the last number of years. So I’m hopeful that if this process can go into effect, if we can get it into the House, we can make enough difference with it the next time legislative districts are drawn,” Deeds said.

The bill passed the Senate on Monday by a 33-5 vote. It now moves to the House for consideration in that chamber.

“We still have a lot of work to do. The House has never seen this bill before, the way it’s drafted now. And I’m hopeful that they’ll look at it with fresh eyes. Maybe they will, maybe they won’t,” Deeds said.

Chris Graham is the executive editor of The Augusta Free Press.

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