A bit of background: following the Census that will be conducted this spring, in 2011 the General Assembly will draw district lines for Congress and for both houses of the General Assembly. Districts are supposed to be as close in population as practical. Local governments will use the demographic info to draw their political boundaries and adjust precinct lines.
In the General Assembly, the temptation is great to draw districts that are favorable to incumbents. If redistricting to benefit politician or party is done with too much gusto, it may be struck down by the courts. Even so, our lawmakers can find plenty of ways to draw districts that pass judicial muster, but still give them (and friends) an electoral advantage. As Delegate Onzlee Ware (D-Roanoke) noted, "... the truth is we know that the party in power uses that as a tool to either strengthen their political power ... or they use it to dilute districts so they can pick up other seats."
Delegate Jones may not think the commonwealth has suffered because of partisan redistricting, but the truth lies elsewhere. If "safe" districts are created for incumbents, challengers will be discouraged and we'll see more uncontested seats. Bad for democracy, bad for the commonwealth. But, good for Delegate Jones' reelection?
Republicans in the House of Delegates are already angling to stack the redistricting deck in their favor. While Democrats in the Senate should be able to block the worst abuses, they may also engage in mutual back scratching when it comes to redistricting. No matter which party does it, redistricting in which partisanship is a factor is bad for Virginia. Bad for democracy.
During the 2010 session, the General Assembly should enact legislation to take politics out of the redistricting process. It may be too late for a state constitutional amendment to govern the process in 2011, but lawmakers can can put in place some nonpartisan, open, and transparent safeguards. Last year the Senate passed Senator Creigh Deeds' amendment to create a bipartisan redistricting commission, but it was killed in the House of Delegates. Governor McDonnell has said he favors reforms - will he deliver or cave in to political pressure from Delegates? It is time to slay the gerrymander in Virginia.