Veto The Sham, Unconstitutional Redistricting Plan

Published 4:13 pm Thursday, January 24, 2013

The Virginia Constitution prescribes that the General Assembly redraw the boundaries of the State Senate and House of Delegates districts every 10 years, the year following the national Census.

The General Assembly did so in 2011, both the Senate and the House, and it became law.

So far, so good.

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But then Senate Republicans suddenly, out of nowhere, shoved another redistricting plan down Virginia's throats this week, a plan that favors their partisan power and position in the Senate, and splits our community into pieces (see page one story).

Talk about trampling the Constitution underfoot.

So much for Founding Fathers and conservative values.

The unconstitutional coup also turned the Senate, and thus the entire 2013 legislative session, septic and toxic.

We've all been flushed by the Senate Republicans.

Even Republican Governor Bob McDonnell and Republican Lieutenant Governor Bill Bolling objected. Governor McDonnell was apparently blindsided by the Senate vote. “This is not an issue that I advocated and I was surprised about the vote yesterday,” he told the media. “I certainly don't think that's a good way to do business.”

At all, even in politics and redistricting, which generally observe a wide leeway of accepted shenanigans.

Senate Republicans voted when Democratic Senator Henry Marsh was in Washington, D.C., attending the inauguration of President Obama, choosing that moment for a vote on a redistricting plan that was a secret to everyone but themselves. With Sen. Marsh gone, the party line vote saw all 20 Republicans support the new redistricting plan and all 19 Democrats present oppose it. Had Sen. Marsh been present, mind you, there would have been a 20-20 tie, which would have been broken, as proscribed by the Constitution, by Lieutenant Governor Bolling. Republicans couldn't count on Bolling voting with their nefarious scheme, however, and so the vote when Senator Marsh was out of town removed those fears.

The plan may well pass the House of Delegates and find its way to Gov. McDonnell's desk, where he should veto it faster than Brad Keselowski without a restrictor plate. The Senate's action seems obviously unconstitutional and it is certainly unethical, a sham and a shame.

Whatever the governor does, the redistricting plan is not likely to receive the required approval by the United States Department of Justice, but the governor should make a statement by doing what is right.

Senate Marsh declared, “I was outraged and I was saddened yesterday to learn that the Senate Republicans had used my absence to force through radical changes to…I wanted to attend the historic second inauguration of President Obama in person. For Senate Republicans to use my absence to push through a partisan redistricting plan that hurts voters across the state is shameful. I've been a lawyer for over 50 years, and I'm certain these changes are unconstitutional. Also, allowing this to stand would mean that the people of Virginia could be subjected to 10 different redistricting plans in a decade.”

Or consider these words proclaimed two years ago by Gov. McDonnell, announcing his bipartisan redistricting commission to ensure that the 2011 redistricting was transparent and constitutional.

“As Virginia redraws its legislative districts later this year,” the governor said two years ago, “the process should take place in a manner that is fair and open. Legislative districts should be drawn in a way that reflects commonsense geographic boundaries and communities of interests as required by law. This Bipartisan Redistricting Commission will contribute to public involvement, openness, and fairness in the redistricting process.”

This week's action by Senate Republicans stands in stark contrast.

It was unfair.

It was not open.

There was no public involvement.

There is no way Gov. McDonnell can do anything other than veto a plan that fails in every way to meet the standards he set for redistricting two years ago.

Everybody knows that the party in power controls redistricting and does everything it can to increase its own power at the expense of the opposition. Democrats and Republicans, alike, have been guilty of looking out for themselves when redrawing district lines every 10 years.

But Republicans had their chance in 2011. The Constitution does not offer them a second helping of liberties this year, too. What the GOP Senate did is unprecedented in Virginia history and must not be allowed to stand as a precedent others can use to justify some future unconstitutional act in Richmond.

Two years ago, Lieutenant Governor Bolling applauded the governor's bipartisan redistricting commission, saying it kept a campaign promise to pursue a bipartisan plan and would “enable us to have at least one bipartisan perspective during the upcoming redistricting process to encourage that districts are drawn with the best interests of citizens in mind.”

This week, Senate Republicans had the best interests of Senate Republicans in mind.

And they went too far. A veto by the governor will bring them back where they belong-in line with the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Virginia.