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Redistricting is an ugly process, one that almost always leaves bruised feelings among the minority party.
And that’s playing out in both chambers of the General Assembly this week. Republicans control the House of Delegates and have eliminated the district of Minority Leader Ward Armstrong, D-Henry. Democrats control the Senate and are drawing four Republican incumbents into two districts.
Senate Minority Leader Thomas K. Norment, Jr., R-James City, was especially upset with the Democratic proposal.
"Senate Democrats have crafted an outrageously partisan redistricting plan that will go down as one of the most notorious examples of gerrymandering in history," Norment said in a press release.
The Senate plan, drawn primarily by Sen. Janet D. Howell, D-Fairfax, would squeeze GOP Sens. Frank W. Wagner and Jeff McWaters, both of Virginia Beach, into the same district. It also would lump Sen. Stephen D. Newman, R-Lynchburg, into the same district as Sen. Ralph K. Smith, R-Botetourt County.
Ten years ago, when Norment was Senate majority leader, he did the same thing.
With Republicans holding 22 seats to the Democrats’ 18, the Senate drew election maps, Norment’s party cramped Sen. Mary Margaret Whipple, D-Arlington, into the same district as Sen. Leslie L. Byrne, D-Fairfax.
Sen. Madison E. Marye, D-Montgomery, was grouped with Sen. Malfourd "Bo" Trumbo, R-Botetourt, with the Marye’s seat moving to Northern Virginia. The moves created a pair of GOP-leaning open seats, designed for and won by Republicans who were then serving in the House of Delegates.
The gerrymandering left Byrne furious and complaining that Republicans were unfairly singling out Democratic women. Norment was unsympathetic, sarcastically replying that "subtlety is lost" on the Democrat.
The next day, Norment said the 2001 map was far less extreme than those drawn in 1991, when Democrats held the Senate. Norment said redistricting is "a political process."
Norment isn’t the only senator to change his redistricting tune. Ten years ago Howell called the GOP’s Senate plan "absurd." On April 5, she said the 2011 map she drew for the Democratic majority followed the same principles as the 2001 GOP plan, including the use of a 2 percent population deviation for districts. Howell also noted that her plan splits 43 localities into different districts, quite similar to the 41 cleaved in the 2001 map.
Norment now complains that Senate Democrats are pushing "one of the most notorious examples of gerrymandering in history."
But to our eyes, Howell’s plan uses many of the same criteria Norment endorsed 10 years ago. Just as two Democrats stood to lose their seats in 2001, two Republicans are out of luck in 2011.
Norment has done a Full Flop!
Richmond Times-Dispatch, Remap plans show partisan preferences, March 29, 2011.
Richmond Times-Dispatch, Republican plan’s aim: To guard incumbents, April 4, 2001.
Richmond Times-Dispatch, Battle lines being drawn - remap plan for Va. Senate OK’d by panel, April 11, 2001.
Richmond Times-Dispatch, Senate gives first OK to new map - budget impasse remains, April 12, 2001.
Richmond Times-Dispatch, Open seats are GOP friendly - consolidation of power is goal, April 22, 2001.
Interview with Sen. Janet D. Howell, April 5, 2011.
Interview with Sen. John Watkins, April 6, 2011.
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