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The legislative district that ties UVa., Virginia Tech, as a reason for nonpartisan redistricting

Story by Chris Graham

deeds1.jpgCreigh Deeds lives 85 miles from Charlottesville.

That’s how far I am from Richmond, give or take a mile or two.

Can you imagine a legislative district that would somehow link Waynesboro and Richmond?

Yeah. Not much of a community of interest there. Right?

But Deeds represents Charlottesville in the Virginia Senate.

“Bath, Alleghany, backwards L through Rockbridge, jumps around to Nelson, then down south to Buckingham and into the eastern two-thirds of Albemarle and the city of Charlottesville. I live 85 miles from Charlottesville, and I’m their state senator. Is that fair?” Deeds said during a breakfast meeting with Greater Augusta-area Democrats last week in Staunton.

He wasn’t unfamiliar to the local Dems. Before winning his Senate seat, Deeds represented a House district that included the western half of Augusta County. That was before the 2001 legislative redistricting that moved the geographical center of the district from the Lexington-Covington area to stretch from his native Bath County all the way down to Blacksburg.

“When I was introducing myself on a statewide basis a couple of years ago, I was telling people, I’m the only person in the history of the Commonwealth of Virginia to be elected from districts that included first VMI, second VPI, third UVa. in succession without changing my physical address,” Deeds said.

“I had this district that was basically from Lexington to Covington that was the population center, and all of the sudden it was from Covington through Newcastle to Blacksburg. And then when Emily Couric passed away, I ended up with this district that really looks like a barbell almost. I made the mistake of calling it a dumbbell district one time,” Deeds said.

Deeds was, then, twice the victim of the ’01 redistricting plan adopted by Republicans in the General Assembly. Of course, it’s hard to complain that much, given that Democrats did the same kind of thing for decades when they had the majorities in the General Assembly.

Deeds, for his part, has been trying to do something about making changes in the process to take out the partisanship that has Bath County linked to Charlottesville and Blacksburg in the state legislature.

“I’m just convinced that if you have less partisanship involved in the redistricting process, you’ll have more competition,” Deeds said. “When you’ve got partisan redistricting, you live in this fantasy world where you can create these Democrat or Republican districts. That’s basically what you have with the redistricting that we have now. But the reality is that most people aren’t on the left or the right. They’re in the middle. And the reality is that if you have competitive districts, if you have districts that are truly compact, contiguous, that keep communities of interest together, the majority of people are in the middle, and you’ll have two candidates running for office trying to appeal to the center.
“I think you’ll end up with a legislature that’s more problem-solving-focused. And you’ll have a legislature that’s less interested in partisanship and bickering. That’s what I think gets us stuck in the mud a lot in Richmond,” Deeds said.

Deeds, a candidate for the 2009 Democratic Party gubernatorial nomination, made a promise to Augusta-area Democrats last week.

“If I’m fortunate enough to be the next governor of Virginia, I can do what that bill did through the amendment and veto pen. And I will do that. And I think we will change Virginia politics maybe forever if we do that,” Deeds said.

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

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