UPDATE: Changes made to reflect net GOP differences in new redistricting plan.
Democrats from the Virginia House of Delegates have released a revamped legislative map in response to a ruling from the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia on multiple counts of racial gerrymandering stemming from the current map. The “narrow and specific” fix the Democrats have put forth would affect nearly a third of the House’s 100 districts.
Notably, the redrawn map would move some African-American voters into neighboring districts that currently lean Republican.
At first, House Minority Leader David Toscano (D-Charlottesville) explained that the proposal from his caucus does not draw multiple lawmakers into the same legislative district. However, a spokeswoman from the minority part said later in the day that the proposal does draw some Republican lawmakers out of their districts and into a neighboring district held by a GOP colleague, according to a report from the Richmond Times-Dispatch.
Through a press release, Majority Leader Todd Gilbert (R-Page) railed against the Democratic plan saying that “Delegate Toscano said explicitly today that no incumbents were paired together. Even a cursory review of the plan shows that is categorically untrue.”
He added, “We have discovered they drew multiple Republican Delegates into the same districts and made five seats currently held by Republicans safe Democratic seats.”
In the Richmond metro area, the proposed boundaries would put Delegates John McGuire (R-Henrico) and Buddy Fowler (R-Hanover) into the same district. In Hampton Roads, Delegates Chris Stolle (R-Norfolk) and Jason Miyares (R-Virginia Beach) would also be placed in the same district.
In their judicial opinion, the three-judge panel, voting 2-1 striking down the district boundaries drawn back in 2011, said that by drawing the legislative map to achieve a 55 percent black voter target in each of the contested districts, House lawmakers had used race as the decisive factor.
When asked about how the Democrats used race in their redrawn map, Chairman of the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus Delegate Lamont Bagby (D-Henrico) said, “There was no real number for that.” He added, “I think the courts stated that they didn’t like the idea of having a number.”
Nevertheless, the map released by Democrats on Wednesday was faced with strong criticism from House Republicans. Gilbert said that Republicans will be doing a “systematic review of the plan released by Delegates Bagby and Toscano, but after our initial review it’s clear that this is [a] hypocritical partisan power grab that would fail to pass legal muster.”
Out of the 29 affected districts, it is unclear which legislators would be drawn out of their the area they currently represent.
When it comes to changes with the racial makeup of districts, Delegates Dawn Adams (D-Richmond) and Schuyler VanValkenburg (D-Henrico) would gain more African-American constituents.
On the GOP side, Delegates Chris Jones (R-Suffolk), Riley Ingram (R-Hopewell), David Yancey (R-Newport News), and Roxann Robinson (R-Chesterfield) would sustain the most dramatic changes in racial demographics under the Democratic plan.
The Virginia House GOP released a statement late Thursday saying the plan moves five currently-held Republican seats to “Safe Democratic” seats, based on the 2017 gubernatorial results.
The statement also says it moves four competitive currently-held Democratic seats to “Safe Democratic” seats, based on the same results.
Democratic leaders said they did not use race-based targets while drawing the map, avoiding the technique that led a panel of federal judges to declare parts of the current House map unconstitutional.
Though, Gilbert said that the GOP leadership has “discovered [Democrats] failed to comply with their own stated criteria, failed to comply with several provisions of the Court’s order, and consciously used race when drawing their map.”
“In 2011, the House passed a bipartisan plan with the support of a majority of the Democratic Caucus and the House’s African-American members after a series of public hearings and committee meetings,” Gilbert explained about the validity of the map drawn by Republicans. “The plan was approved by President Obama’s Department of Justice. We will continue to pursue both our request for a stay from the Eastern District Court and our appeal to the United States Supreme Court,” he added.
With the possibility of a more Democrat-friendly in the works, it could have major political implications with Republicans, considering they hold only a one-member majority heading into the 2019 elections.