- Published on Wednesday, 30 January 2013 12:11
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Republicans in the State Senate had quite a week. First, they tried to implement a sneaky and underhanded mid-decade redistricting of their Senate seats that would substantially increase their numbers. That passed, but may meet problems in the House, or with the Governor. And then they proposed - and at this writing it hasn’t passed, and thankfully may not - a bill to completely change the way Virginia’s electoral votes are awarded. The purpose of that bit of legislative skullduggery is to blunt the impact of Virginia’s recent tendency to go Democratic in national elections.
The most devious of these attempts to thwart the democratic process occurred on Martin Luther King Day when the Republicans in the State Senate introduced a bill that was listed on the docket as technical changes to House of Delegates Districts. That sounded innocuous enough but it turned out to be a blatant misrepresentation. Instead it was a bill to dramatically alter the makeup of the State Senate in the GOP’s favor.
But, that’s not the really sneaky part. With the Senate split 20 to 20, Democrats to Republicans, if a bill like this was going to pass it needed the tie-breaker vote of the Republican Lieutenant Governor. However, Lieutenant Governor Bill Bolling, a man of more principle than his GOP friends in the Senate told these conspirators he wouldn’t help them.
But, that didn’t stop this plot from going forward. When they found out that Democratic Senator Henry Marsh would be in Washington, D.C. on that Monday to attend the President’s inauguration they went in to action. They knew that with Marsh out of town there would be only 19 Democratic members in the chamber and by mislabeling the bill they could make sure Senator Marsh wouldn’t be making an emergency trip back to Richmond. They succeeded in catching the chamber’s Democrats off guard and the bill passed strictly on partisan lines.
What this bill does is create a new majority-minority district which would undoubtedly be a Democratic vote. We have several in Virginia. This kind of district is drawn to give African-American voters a majority in one district with the expectation that it will elect an African-American representative. However, the new Senate redistricting bill creates this African-American district by consolidating black voters who are currently dispersed in eight other Democrat-leaning Senate districts. The impact is that these eight marginal or Democrat leaning districts will, without these African-American voters, become much tougher ground for the Democrats.
Senate Republicans say that they want to create another majority-minority district in order to better comply with the provisions of the Civil Rights Voting Act. However, when the district lines were redrawn in 2011, and reviewed by the U.S. Department of Justice, this issue never came up. Then there is the matter of the State Constitution which says that district lines are supposed to be redrawn every ten years following the decadal census. This is a practice that’s followed by almost every other state in the nation. However, there are some who have argued that this provision doesn’t exempt the General Assembly from a redistricting at some other time. And while that may be a precise interpretation of the law, the common sense meaning remains clear.
However, in this one case, it appears the GOP Senators were, as my Grandmother used to like to say, “…too cute by half.” However, the House of Delegates, also dominated by Republicans, isn’t that enthusiastic about this bill, and the Governor, worried about getting his transportation initiatives approved, said he might veto it.
However, that wasn’t the only attempt to manipulate the electoral process going on last week. It seems the Virginia’s Republican Senators had a lot on their plate. The second rather unseemly bill that was proposed was not inspired directly by members of the Virginia Senate Republican caucus, but rather is part of an initiative on the part of the national Republican Party. It’s designed to dilute the Democrats’ recent electoral voting strength in certain key states the Democrats have been winning in national elections.
The idea behind it is that states can change the way votes in the Electoral College are won. Nebraska and Maine for instance, award their electoral votes based on Congressional districts, and then, give the two electoral votes that are based on the number of Senators to the candidate who wins statewide. This sounds decent enough, but there is a dark side. If this initiative passes, with most of these states having their district lines drawn by GOP legislatures to give Republicans a majority in their U.S. House delegations, the Democrats would have a tougher time winning a national election.
It’s clever and is a little harder to argue against. That is, unless you consider that the entire motivation on the part of the state’s Senate Republican Caucus is to pass this bill as a part of a national effort on the part of the GOP to diminish the strength of the Democrats in national elections. Fortunately, a couple of Republican Senators are saying they might not support this proposal; they think it’s a step too far, at which point, it should fail.
This was a lot of activity for a single week in a short session (only two months) and it was the stuff of high political intrigue. But, it also managed to potentially delay, if not derail, a host of initiatives, and important business, such as transportation funding, school reform and tax policy. Alas, all of these issues have taken a back seat to the Senate Republican Caucus’ desire for political gain. However, the toughest criticism I heard came from a longtime watcher of politics in the Commonwealth, who said, simply that this isn’t the “Virginia way.” To which I readily add, it most certainly isn’t.