Garrett Defends Redistricting Vote

Published 4:33 pm Tuesday, February 5, 2013

CUMBERLAND – Although he was at first reticent to provide answers when contacted by The Herald on January 24, Senator Thomas A. Garrett Jr. offered an explanation for what he thought were the possible benefits of a new redistricting plan during a visit with representatives from Buckingham County on January 31.

The 22nd District, which Senator Garrett represents, is currently comprised of all of Buckingham, Cumberland and Prince Edward County, as well as Amherst, Appomattox, Fluvanna, Goochland, portions of Louisa County and portions of the city of Lynchburg.

The proposed redistricting would split Buckingham, Cumberland and Prince Edward Counties apart. Buckingham County would be primarily represented in the 10th District. But its western border would be located in the 22nd District, connecting northern and southern portions of the same.

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Cumberland County would be fully in the 10th District. Farmville and the rest of northern Prince Edward County would be in the 10th district, with the remaining southern portion of the county in the 15th District. (See district maps above.)

Although he was not confident if it would ever become law, the primary advantages of the new districting, according to Senator Garrett, would be the creation of more compact districts in other areas of the state by using a more elongated 22nd District as a “keystone” and greater compliance with federal law.

The Virginia State Senate passed the redistricting bill on January 21. It originated in the House of Delegates last year, primarily to make “technical changes” to certain House of Delegates Districts in order to eliminate split voting precincts, according to the bill summary.

However, when the bill came before the senate, a substitution submitted by Senator John C. Watkins, 10th District, added drastic changes in state senate districts. Senator Garrett, along with all other Senate Republicans, voted in favor of the bill, which barely passed by a margin of one vote.

After being postponed three times, the bill is due for action in the House of Delegates on February 6.

While attending a Local Government Day at the General Assembly hosted by The Virginia Association of Counties, Buckingham County Supervisor Cassandra Stish, District Five, County Administrator Rebecca Carter and Assistant County Administrator Karl Carter visited with both Delegate Matt C. Fariss and Senator Garrett.

When asked by Senator Garrett if she had any specific legislative agenda to discuss, Stish said she had a laundry list of concerns. However, the first issue she raised was the proposed redistricting, “Clearly, Buckingham is very interested in the redistricting thing and what the hay is going on with that and why.”

She went on to point out that if the proposed legislation was ever enacted, “the two precincts that remain in Buckingham County are mine.”

First, Garrett explained, “If you look at the rest of the state, I think they turn the 22nd into sort of the keystone.”

He stated that the other districts, except for the 22nd, become more compact, “I think it unites a dozen more counties than were united before. And it eliminates every single split precinct in the state….”

He also stated that he believed the redistricting helped bring Virginia into greater compliance with federal law.

He explained that federal law says that “where there are communities of interest and a minority majority district can be created, it shall be created.”

He pointed out that while 20.4 percent of Virginians are African-American, only five of the 40 Virginia State Senators are African American, or 12.5 percent.

He continued, with a theme he reiterated throughout, “I will tell you this…Having been here for one year and one month, I can assure you that I was not at the forefront of the planning process for this. I'm happy as a clam with the district that I have.”

“This plan, I think, is a far better plan to comply with federal law than what we had. Having said that, I will reiterate once again, that I was pretty happy with where we were before,” Senator Garrett concluded.

After hearing Senator Garrett's explanation, Stish raised a final concern, “It feels like to me it's broken up a population group that was in the center of the state that was…the population core of a rural mindset that has now… been parceled off to larger urban sectors…”

Pointing to the inclusion of northern Prince Edward County in a district that also contains City of Richmond precincts, she added that she felt that the redistricting was silencing one of the only “rural voices that can manage to pull together around a rural message. Instead,…it's been split apart and tied to other urban areas.”

Garrett responded that he hadn't looked at the other districts, however, “I'll tell you this, what happens to my district is it gets more rural, because, before, I had the town of Farmville and 55 percent of the city of Lynchburg.

“Now, I don't know what the biggest town in my district is. I really don't. I got some suburbs in Albemarle, but I don't have any of Charlottesville and I have none of, none of Lynchburg. The biggest town in my district, I kid you not, might be Altavista.”

When Stish commented on her surprise on how the redistricting bill came up so quickly, Garrett reiterated that with only a year and one month of service behind him, he was not consulted.

Garrett used his map of the proposed redistricting to illustrate the changes to the 22nd District, noting first that his old district was geographically compact compared to the new one.

Pointing to the proposed 22nd District which curves north to south, tenuously connected by only the Buckingham County precincts, he said, “Now I am one county from North Carolina and two counties from Maryland [laughing] in the same piece of real estate. And you got that, that isthmus of Buckingham there.”

He then noted the shape of other districts, pointing out that he felt some were much more geographically compact in the proposed redistricting plan.

Before discussing other legislative matters with the Buckingham representative, Garrett expressed doubt that the bill would ever become law: “We're going to see what happens here. Candidly, I don't bet. I don't bet. But, if I did bet, I wouldn't make any bets. So, my job, no matter what happens, is to serve the 22nd District, as it exists, for the next three years and very well maybe after that, too, if I'm fortunate enough to get re-elected.”