General Assembly Update (4/19/11)
A funny thing happened on the way to a redistricting plan — Governor McDonnell’s veto. This action has created a level of uncertainty that may eventually lead to a court challenge and may force Delegates and Senators to run elections in two (three for Delegates) consecutive years.
How did we get to this point? I have always supported nonpartisan redistricting so it should come as no surprise that I voted against the House Republican plan which passed handily in early April. The House plan is largely an incumbent-protection plan which did not incorporate the work of nonpartisan map-drawing teams like those of the Governor’s Redistricting Commission or maps from student winners of the Virginia Redistricting Competition. In the House plan, entire districts were moved to other parts of the state to make it difficult for certain Democrats to run for re-election, including, notably, House Minority Leader Ward Armstrong. The plan creates districts which are less contiguous than presently drawn and divide more cities and counties than do present districts.
In the House plan, my district would have lost voters in the Ivy and Jack Jouett precincts and would have picked up Cale, Woodbrook and part of East Ivy. The Governor’s veto now makes this uncertain. You can see a map of what the 57th looks like currently and under the House plan on my Facebook page.
The Senate redistricting plan takes a similar approach — protect incumbents and, given that the body is Democratic, make districts more favorable to Democrats. That is what happens when you have a partisan redistricting process.
Many commentators believe that the Governor’s veto is targeted against the Senate Democrats and has little to do with nonpartisan redistricting. He could send us a bill based on one of the nonpartisan maps drawn by his Commission, but that is unlikely to occur. This is a rapidly evolving situation, so I will update you as more information becomes available. General Assembly committees are meeting this week and the full body will convene on Monday, April 25 to assess the situation and potentially vote on a revised plan.
The redistricting dispute has now largely eclipsed the recently convened veto session which occurred on Wednesday, April 6th. In a long, 11-hour session, we considered more than 85 changes to the budget, vetoes and the Governor’s amendments to legislation. The highlights of this session included rejection of the budget cuts proposed by the Governor to important initiatives like foster care and public broadcasting. My comments in the debate about decreasing support for foster care are posted at YouTube.
The Governor’s veto of the medical malpractice stabilization bill was handily rejected by both the House and the Senate. A bill that provides limited health care coverage to children with autism was able to survive Governor McDonnell’s amendments and will become law. The only major veto sustained by the General Assembly was to the bill that would have required schools to provide physical education. I received many thoughtful emails on this measure; the argument that this was an unfunded mandate on schools eventually won the day, and the veto was upheld.
I appreciate your input and patience as we deal with this complicated and sometimes confusing process, and I hope you will feel free to contact my office with any questions or concerns you may have. Please also feel free to contact my office if you need assistance in dealing with state agencies such as DMV, VEC, DSS and others. My number in Richmond is (804) 698-1057 and you may reach me by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.