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From the Front Row: Kaye Kory’s Richmond Report

By Kaye Kory

Published by the Falls Church News-Press on August 12, 2015

The Republican leadership of the General Assembly has been foot-dragging all summer to avoid complying with the June 5, 2015 redistricting order issued by the Federal District Court of Eastern Virginia. The Court required the General Assembly to complete the process by September 1, 2015. On July 16, Governor McAuliffe issued a formal writ calling for a Special Session to begin on August 17, 2015 to address the problem. The Republican leadership objected and requested the Court to grant an extension of this date pending the outcome of potential U.S. Supreme Court review of a similar gerrymandering case in Alabama. On August 5, the Court denied the request for an extension.

The key driver for the Court’s initial finding is the Commonwealth’s 7th District – represented by Congressman Robert Scott – which is drawn to include predominately black neighborhoods from Norfolk, Petersburg and Richmond. For Republicans a critical by-product of this skillfully gerrymandered map has been to concentrate Democratic voting strength in Northern and central Virginia so that Republicans are able to win 7 of Virginia’s 10 Congressional seats with barely 50 percent of the total popular vote.

It now looks like the Court’s action will force the issue, at least on the 7th district. But, I doubt that there is any interest among Republicans in drawing a congressional district map – or, for that matter, Virginia Delegate and Senate districts – that are not designed to accomplish underlying partisan objectives; that ensure that the votes of all Virginians have equal weight; and, that comply with Virginia’s constitutional requirement that “every electoral district shall be composed of contiguous and compact territory.”

Virginia certainly needs a new redistricting process. Today, 21 states have put into place non-partisan mechanisms to draw their legislative district maps. Asking partisan legislators to draw district boundaries that are fair and equitable for the citizens is like asking pharmaceutical firms to charge fair and equitable prices for their new drugs. It’s not going to happen. Frankly, Democrats have often led and are often complicit in the partisan process that we now apply in Virginia.

For years we have been talking about creating a redistricting process that is open and reflects the interests of citizens, not the officeholders. Calls for the creation of a non-partisan commission go as far back as I can remember. But, this will not happen without considerable pressure from key stakeholders – including local governments and business interests and both Democrats and Republicans who are willing to take the long view. Which is to say, not any time soon.

At the moment, partisanship is the order of the day. Speaker Howell – who is far from the most partisan member of the Republican majority – does play the game very well. His latest shot over the bow of Governor McAuliffe’s ship is the decision to contest the Governor’s appointment of Judge Jane Roush to the Commonwealth Supreme Court. Republicans have refused to even interview this experienced and well-regarded judge who resigned her former position as judge in the Fairfax Circuit and has been seated on the Supreme Court since August 1. Instead, the Republican majority prefers Virginia Court of Appeals Judge Rossie D. Alston Jr.

It is unprecedented for the General Assembly both to remove a sitting judge and to refuse to support a governor’s interim appointment to the state’s highest court. And, not since 1901 has the General Assembly removed a judge from the Supreme Court.

Democrats have asked that a hearing be convened to consider both candidates. Republican leaders stated that, “We’ve made a decision…[and] suggesting that other candidates be subject to the certification process is merely political theater.” I suggest that political theater is exactly what the Republican leadership is practicing.