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Editorial: Franklin County residents should apply for redistricting commission

Editorial: Franklin County residents should apply for redistricting commission

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Are you a resident of Virginia?

Have you voted in at least two of the last three general elections?

If you answered “yes” to both of those, then you’re still in the running. Now, for the next questions:

Do you hold, or have you ever held or sought a partisan elected office or any political party position?

Are you employed by, or ever been employed by, the General Assembly or Congress?

Are you employed by or have you ever been employed by any campaign for local, state or federal office?

Are you employed by or have you ever been employed by any political party or a member of a state party central committee?

Have you been a lobbyist or a lobbyist principal in the last five years?

Are you the parent, spouse, child, sibling, in-law of anyone who has done any of the things above?

If you answered “no” to those six questions, then congratulations — you are free of any political taint and eligible to be appointed as a citizen member to Virginia’s new redistricting commission. Here’s why should put your application in.

You’ll recall that in the election just past Virginia voters approved an amendment to the state constitution — one that takes the power of drawing legislative lines out of the hands of the General Assembly and gives it to a new bipartisan commission.

This isn’t a perfect contraption, but it’s far better than what we had previously — where the majority party got to draw lines willy-nilly to help its candidates and hurt the other side’s. Democrats did that when they were in power; Republicans did that when they were in power; Democrats would have surely done it again if not for a rare harmonic convergence of political interest that put this amendment before the voters. The amendment sets up a 16-member commission to draw the lines. Eight of those will be legislators — four Democrats and four Republicans. And then there will be eight citizen members who, by law, must meet the qualifications above.

That application process is now open and closes Dec. 28. After that comes some politics. Each party leader in the General Assembly gets to go through the applications and recommend 16 — so the Speaker of the House (a Democrat) will have her list, the House Minority Leader (a Republican) his list, the Senate Democratic Leader his list, the Senate Republican Leader his list. All those lists (with up to 64 names if there are no overlaps) go to a panel of five retired judges, who will then pick eight people to serve — two from each list. Those judges are instructed to “give consideration to the racial, ethnic, geographic and gender diversity of the Commonwealth.”

We are here today to speak up for that geographic diversity. Let’s lay down this marker now: This redistricting commission will not be sufficiently diverse unless it has citizen members from both Southside and Southwest Virginia.

We’re pleased to see that Republicans have put two Southside legislators on their seats on the panel — state Sen. Steve Newman of Lynchburg and Del. Les Adams of Pittsylvania County.

We’re also pleased to see that House Republicans made sure there was geographical diversity on that panel of retired judges by selecting Larry B. Kirksey of Bristol. Otherwise, all the other judges (one picked by House Democrats, one by Senate Democrats, one by Senate Republicans and then one picked by those four judges) are from the urban crescent. We’re counting on Judge Kirksey to make sure that Southwest and Southside aren’t overlooked when it comes to picking citizen members. Actually, we’re counting on all those retired judges — Pamela Baskervill of Petersburg, Joanne Alper of Arlington, David Pugh of Newport News and William C. Andrews III of Hampton — to make sure there are voices from Southside and Southwest at the table when the lines get drawn.

Of course, that depends on the legislators drawing up lists that include prospective members from those parts of the state.

And that depends on there actually be applicants from Southwest and Southside. That’s where you come in. We — and you — can’t complain about the commission not being geographically diverse if there aren’t a lot of applicants from outside the urban crescent to choose from. There’s an application form at http://redistricting.dls.virginia.gov/. You can either submit it through that portal or email the required documents to varedist@dls.virginia.gov or fax them to 804-698-1899 or mail them to Division of Legislative Services ATTN: Selection Committee 900 E. Main Street Richmond, VA 23219. Fax is an antiquated technology and the mail is unreliable so we recommend either the submit form or email.

We are fully aware that both parties will have an incentive to name members from other parts of the state, which is why those in this part of Virginia should speak up the loudest. The state’s population growth has been in the urban crescent, so that’s where any new districts will get drawn (at the expense of rural Virginia, which will surely lose seats as a consequence). The new commission doesn’t ban gerrymandering, it just makes gerrymandering less likely by forcing the two parties to collaborate. The Democrats’ voting strength is in the urban crescent, so that’s where they will be looking to maximize the number of seats. Republicans know that if they’re going to regain the majority in either chamber it will have to be by winning back districts in the urban crescent that they’ve recently lost (they already control almost everything in rural Virginia). So they need to be acutely attuned to how those districts in the urban crescent are being drawn.

Southside and Southwest Virginia are so thoroughly Republican it’s hard to draw a district that doesn’t result in a GOP majority. That may mean both parties slight the region — Republicans have nothing to lose and Democrats have nothing to gain. But we as a region still do. There are some important questions pending: Should the 9th Congressional District take in more of the Roanoke Valley? Or should the 9th eat into more of Southside that’s now in the 5th? Or should the emphasis be on reconfiguring the 5th to make it more focused on Southside? Should Roanoke and Lynchburg stay in the same congressional district or be in different ones? These are questions that can be argued either way but it would be good to have people on the commission who understand the regional nuances. You helped vote this commission in. Now it’s up to you to help make it work.

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