Put The Redistricting Cat Back In The Bag, Senator

Published 3:30 pm Thursday, February 14, 2013

Somebody give Speaker of the House of Delegates William Howell a medal. The Fredericksburg Republican, living up to the state's motto of triumphing over tyrants, derailed the State Senate redistricting plan schemed and rammed through by GOP Senators that would have ripped our rural voice into pieces.

Speaker Howell declared that the redistricting plan violated House rules and said the integrity of the House and the position of House Speaker required him to stop the Senate's redistricting plan in its tracks.

Before it ran over us.

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The Speaker's words made me proud to be a Virginian and provided a moment of stark contrast with words from his Republican counterparts in the State Senate.

Our own State Senator, for now, Tom Garrett voted for the redistricting plan that would split our community of interest into three Senate Districts, just two years after asking us for our vote and the honor of representing our community of interest in the State Senate.

On January 24, he refused to explain his vote when asked by this newspaper. A week later, questioned by Buckingham County Board of Supervisors member Cassandra Stish, he provided an answer, given in the presence of Herald reporter Elsa Loeser, who reported his response.

“If you look at the rest of the state,” the senator told them, “I think they turn the 22nd into sort of the keystone.”

All the other Senate Districts, except the 22nd, he noted, 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 said.

Buckingham, Cumberland, and Prince Edward counties, united and whole in the existing District, are split in the redistricting plan Sen. Garrett, who represents Buckingham, Cumberland, and Prince Edward counties, voted to make happen. Split from each other and Buckingham and Prince Edward are also divided, as counties, into two different Senate Districts.

Fittingly, the shape of the new would-be 22nd District looks like some crude hatchet or tomahawk poised to strike, an appropriate symbol for what would happen to our now-compact rural-voiced 22nd District.

So excuse me if I ask, rather than stand up and applaud Sen. Garrett's redistricting decision, 'Who wants to run as Republican and Democratic candidates for State Senate in two years?'

It seems to me that we're the redistricting sacrificial lamb and our own State Senator doesn't seem to mind.

Doesn't seem to mind? He voted to make it happen.

Frankly, I might support the cat that lives on High Street as our next senator. The cat won't vote on the Senate floor, of course, and that might be helpful-the cat won't vote to split us apart so that others can be whole.

State law doesn't say that all Senate Districts but one should be compact and contiguous and a community of interest. All Senate Districts must meet that requirement.

Sen. Garrett then praised the redistricting plan for its impact on minority representation in the State Senate, noting federal law says, “Where there are communities of interest and a minority majority district can be created, it shall be created.” And 20.4 percent of Virginians are African-American, he pointed out, but only five of 40 State Senators are African-American.

Sounds noble.

How then to explain the outrage from African-American State Senators against the redistricting plan-passed on Martin Luther King Jr. Day when Civil Rights leader, Democratic State Senator Henry Marsh, was in Washington, D.C. attending the inauguration of President Obama, creating the 20-19 vote that allowed the plan to pass.

“They say they are giving us a sixth seat in the Virginia Senate,” declared a furious Democratic Senator Donald McEachin, of Henrico, “but they pushed huge numbers of African-American voters out of other districts. Excuse me if we call that plantation politics.”

Plantation politics.

Where's the cat?

Senate Republicans, it must be said, apparently have not given up on their redistricting plan. Republican Senate Majority Thomas K. Norment, Jr., issued a statement saying, “while the Speaker's judgment today means that House Bill 259 will not be promptly enacted, we are confident that the districts approved by the Senate on January 21 will be the districts under which the 2015 elections will be conducted.”

There may or may not be another redistricting vote in the scheme of GOP Senate machinations. If there is, Sen. Garrett will have a chance to reverse his vote and stand up for the district he now serves, the one he asked to serve.


As Buckingham Supervisor Stish told Sen. Garrett regarding the redistricting plan he voted for, “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…”

And Stish told the Senator she feels the redistricting plan was silencing one of the only “rural voices that can manage to pull together around a rural message…”

She's right, of course.

…Here, kitty, kitty.