As legislators in the House of Delegates deal with redistricting, the story is really about partisan politics – so partisan that it boggles the mind. However, we’re talking politics here – Democratic politics.
Republicans are currently appealing a lower court ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court after the District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia reversed its previous opinion, finding that African-American voters were packed into majority-minority districts in 11 House districts in the Richmond metro and Hampton Roads areas. Following the decision made over racial gerrymandering, the court has given the House until the end of October to comply with the ruling, redrawing the districts.
This week, Republican leaders in the statehouse announced that they would be returning to Bank Street in Richmond in mid-October to vote on a redistricting plan, countering a unpopular plan forwarded from House Democrats last week. Although Republicans are appealing the ruling, there have been attempts to reach out to the minority party to see that a bipartisan redistricting plan is accomplished.
Meanwhile, Democrats have accused the majority party of stalling in an attempt to preserve the current map, deemed unconstitutional. However, stalling has also been seen on part of House Democrats, who refuse to reveal who created the new map that alters nearly one-third of the Commonwealth’s legislative districts.
According to a report from the Richmond Times-Dispatch, on Wednesday, Republicans disclosed a letter Speaker of the House Kirk Cox (R-Colonial Heights) sent to Governor Ralph Northam and the Democratic leadership accusing them of “playing politics in the press” rather than working with the other side of political aisle to craft a bipartisan plan.
Cox explained in the letter that he understands the General Assembly may be forced to pass a map and is “willing to engage in a good-faith effort to prepare a remedial plan as our appeal continues.”
“The only question is: are you?” Cox posited to the Democrats.
The House Democratic caucus released a statement Wednesday calling the Republicans’ claims “outlandish.”
“It is clear that the Republicans’ strategy has been to stall the process, both politically and in the courts,” said Democratic Caucus Executive Director Trevor Southerland. “Now that they are faced with the possibility of court-drawn districts — which would undo their racial gerrymandering and affect their partisan advantage — they are compelled to introduce their own map and protect their gerrymander at all costs.”
When Southerland says “their racial gerrymandering,” he must forget that the 2011 redistricting plan was supported by his own caucus and the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus.
Southerland also said in a Virginia House Democrats press release, “House Republicans, apparently, feel the need to rely on backroom deals to ensure support of their map before bringing it to a public vote. There can be no reason for these private negotiations other than an attempt to conceal from the public an overtly partisan and political map – and further delay the process.”
This could, quite literally, not be further from the truth, and shows a level of boundless hypocrisy on part of the Democrats redrawing the legislative map.
If you don’t believe that, just take it from one of the Democratic members in the General Assembly.
Delegate Stephen Heretick (D-Portsmouth) took to House floor last week to call the redistricting attempt a “self-serving, political power grab. It’s gerrymandering in response to gerrymandering. It’s tit-for-tat. It’s, in the immortal words of baseball great Yogi Berra, ‘it is deja vu all over again.’”
That, however, isn’t even the worst thing with this situation.
Two top Democrats were questioned by the House Privileges and Elections committee last week about who exactly drew the new district boundaries.
One would believe that these are simple questions, with names, dates, and locations being the simple answers.
However, the Democrats took everyone down the rabbit hole that day.
When questioned by Republican Majority Leader Todd Gilbert (R-Page) on who drew the new map, Delegate Lamont Bagby (D-Henrico) said it was a “collective effort…I don’t know…the exact names…of the individuals.”
When Minority Leader David Toscano (D-Charlottesville) was questioned, he said, “We started with people…we had some consultants out of Washington, and we had other people who had map software, and we started movin’ precincts around, and as you move precincts around there’s a ripple effect and they go out into different districts. So, that’s how the map got produced,” he answered.
Continuing the questioning, Gilbert asked Bagby, “Who would ‘they’ have been taking to, to express those concerns about racial issues?”
Bagby answered, “the map drawer.”
When Gilbert asked Toscano if he had “been on some of those calls,” which presumably was for Democratic input on the making of the new map with this mystery map maker or map drawer, the minority leader said, “I might have been on some of those calls.”
He added, “Ultimately, the map drawer…that person is in a better position to tell somebody the answer to the question.”
Delegate Mark Cole (R-Stafford) then asked Toscano, “Would it be possible for us to get a list of map drawers as you called them.”
“Well, I don’t know,” Toscano said bluntly.
“Look, we have a map,” Toscano responded while smirking. “If you don’t like the map, either you amend it, or you vote it down.”
In his letter to the governor, Cox said that Democrats are engaging in “a coordinated and disingenuous effort” to ensure the map is drawn by the courts rather than the General Assembly.
“You can understand my frustration,” Cox said. “Our private efforts have been rebuffed numerous times, yet you continue to state publicly that we are not interested in pursuing a remedial plan. That’s just not true.”
For those who actually believe that House Republicans are not interested in a new, bipartisan redistricting plan, look at what the Democrats are doing. How can someone even work with a party – regardless of what the map looks like – that won’t even say who drew the map, or if they had any input, with a party leadership that cannot answer a single, simple question in a straightforward manner.
Southerland says, “The failure of the Republicans to act simply proves that we are at a legislative impasse.” Yes, there is obviously an impasse, an impasse that has been caused by backrooms deals, not on part of Republicans, but by Democrats.
Come to think of it, we don’t even know if there actually was a backroom deal, because Democrats won’t even say where the map was drawn, or by whom, or when it was drawn, or how it was drawn, or why is was drawn in such a way, or why the answers to these question are impossible to come by.