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Christiansburg is just like Botetourt county

Paper: Roanoke Times, The (VA)


Date: June 24, 2007

The recent Virginia GOP senate primary was almost exciting. Sen. Brandon Bell, a moderate Republican incumbent -- at least what passes for a moderate Republican in these parts -- faced a challenge from the even-farther right.

Ralph Smith eked out a narrow victory. The former Roanoke mayor will next run against Democrat Michael Breiner in November. Bell's loss turned an almost certainly safe Republican seat into a potentially competitive one.

It's enough to set a political junkie aquiver -- unless that junkie happens to live in the New River Valley.

Though the winner of the District 22 race will represent a good chunk of the valley, both candidates reside far from the New River: Breiner in Roanoke County and Smith in Botetourt County.

Not that it would have mattered if Bell had triumphed in the primary. He's from the Roanoke area too.

No, Christiansburg, Radford and part of Pulaski County will have a senator who lives nowhere near those communities.

Then there are Blacksburg, and Giles and Craig counties. Those voters live in Senate District 21 and will choose between John Edwards, a Democrat from Roanoke, and, well, John Edwards. He's running unopposed.

In January, no senator will call the New River Valley home. Come to think of it, none has in years.

In 2001, Republicans in the General Assembly contorted Southwest Virginia's Senate districts to serve their political needs. Democrats had done the same when they controlled the assembly, but that does not excuse the Republican redistricting ravages.

Montgomery County and some of the surrounding area were once part of one happy district. Madison Marye of Shawsville was its senator.

But Marye was a Democrat, and Republicans could not stand that Southwest Virginia produced Democratic Sens. Marye and Edwards, so they moved Marye's district across the state and cut Montgomery County in half.

The northern portion, including Blacksburg, is part of District 21. That put progressive Blacksburg in with Democratic Roanoke and conceded Edwards' Senate seat as safely blue.

The benefit for Republicans was that Blacksburg became isolated from the more conservative parts of Montgomery County, which Republicans lumped into District 22, which stretches from Radford, through Christiansburg and Salem to Botetourt County. It has gone red in every statewide election.

Sure, Bell and Edwards catch an occasional Hokie game, but no one from the second-most-populous part of Southwest Virginia speaks on the floor of the Senate.

Legislative districts are supposed to preserve communities of interest and be compact. Those goals fell by the wayside once the political hacks got their fingers on Southwest Virginia.

To take the legislative map seriously, one must believe that Christiansburg has more in common with Buchanan and Blacksburg with New Castle than C'burg and B'burg have in common with each other.

Back in reality, a compact district would have kept Montgomery County in one piece and ensured a senator spoke for the New River Valley. Crunching the numbers, Montgomery, Floyd, Giles, Pulaski and Craig counties, and the city of Radford has just about the right number of people to form a district. It might even be competitive for both Republicans and Democrats.

The next redistricting will take place in 2011, at which time the winner of the Breiner-Smith race will still be in office. It's worth asking them now if they would be willing to create a district that respects the New River Valley knowing that it could cost them their seat.

Don't hold your breath for a straight answer. Gerrymandering is not just about helping one major party or the other; it is also about protecting incumbents.

Reach out a hand to your near, dear district neighbors far to the northeast. Maybe they will put in a good word for us with the senators.

Trejbal is an editorial writer for The Roanoke Times based in the New River Valley bureau in Christiansburg.

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map - Virginia Senate Districts 21 and 22

Copyright (c) 2007 The Roanoke Times

Author: Christian Trejbal 381-1645

Section: CURRENT

Page: NRV6

Column: Christian Trejbal

Copyright (c) 2007 The Roanoke Times