A chance at redistricting reform

The Roanoke Times

January 28, 2010

When Gov. Bob McDonnell campaigned last year, he said he wanted to help reduce the partisanship in drawing congressional and General Assembly districts. He thought a bipartisan citizen commission was preferable to leaving the job exclusively to self-interested politicians. If he is going to deliver on that pledge, now is the time.

This is the last chance to adopt a better system before the next round of redistricting . The U.S. Census Bureau will count Americans in the spring, and when the General Assembly convenes next year, it must adopt new districts based on population changes since 2000.

More often than not, lawmakers draw lines that protect their party and incumbents. They forgo principles of compactness, competition, and civic and natural boundaries. They create strange-looking districts that stretch great distances along circuitous paths but provide safe seats.

That serves only the politicians and the two major political parties.

A few Republican and Democratic lawmakers have introduced bills this session to turn redistricting over to a bipartisan commission in 2011 and every decade after that. There are some variations between their bills, but they all share the idea that lawmakers alone cannot be trusted to create the best districts.

In a perfect world, we would prefer a nonpartisan commission that welcomed representatives who are neither Democrats nor Republicans, but even just a bipartisan one would be a huge step toward better elections.

But whither McDonnell? His position, as spelled out in a statement on his campaign Web site, was clear. He called for a bipartisan commission that would be "comprised of Virginia citizens who have not held any elected office for at least 10 years." It would also encourage public comment and interaction throughout the process.

Yet this week he was less enthusiastic. Lawmakers asked for his leadership on the issue, but the best he could muster was support for "more citizen input and making sure that citizens have a chance to look at the map and give input before lines are drawn."

If reform is to happen, it will take more than wishy-washy support from the governor. Reform bills have appeared regularly for years, but they have never passed. If a Republican governor honors his campaign promise, he might convince the Republican-controlled House of Delegates to go along this year.

Edition: Metro
Section: Editorial
Page: A18
Index Terms: general assembly 2010 RoundTable
Record Number: 1001282593233
Copyright (c) 2010 The Roanoke Times