RICHMOND – As the Virginia Redistricting Commission continues its work on state House maps, it’s even more clear that the political influence of Southwest and Southside is continuing to wane with the loss of House seats because of a dwindling population.
Both Republican and Democratic consultants have had to contend with drawing redistricting maps for low populations – particularly in the far Southwest – resulting in draft districts with paired incumbents, or difficulties maintaining compact geographical shapes of districts.
Sean Kumar and other commissioners said that maintaining districts that didn’t split localities and contained localities with similar political, social and economic interests was of higher priority than preventing incumbent pairings.
“The old maps were a product of … court decisions, [and] political gerrymandering, and in many cases the crazy shapes that we got were either to respect incumbent addresses, or incumbents ran in those crazy shapes, allowing them to be in districts they would not have been in if maps were drawn in a more compact manner,” Kumar, one of the Democratic members, said in commission meeting this week. He added, “if we are going to try to draw reasonable maps, incumbent pairings are going to happen.”
Under both parties’ plans, Southwest Virginia will lose a House seat.
The latest draft House of Delegates map drawn by a Democratic consultant would pair two incumbents living in Washington County, due to population loss in the area – Israel O’Quinn and Will Wampler.
In the new Republican draft state House map, to resolve the grouping of two incumbents in the far Southwest, Dickenson and Russell and a portion of Washington and Bristol were considered in a singledistrict to prevent the grouping of incumbents. Washington would be further split and paired with Grayson, Galax, Carroll counties and some of Wythe County.
But under this proposal, the Republican delegates from Tazewell and Smyth – Will Morefield and Jeff Campbell, respectively — are combined in a district that includes Buchanan.
Southside is also slated to lose a House seat.
A new Democratic map presented this week pairs Dels. Kathy Byron with Del. Matt Farris, both Republicans from Campbell County.
The new Republican plan also puts Byron and Jim Edmunds, R-Halifax County, into the same district.
Analysts with the non-partisan Princeton Gerrymandering Project rate the Republican drawn maps as having a slight Republican advantage, while the Democratic drawn map was determined to have no partisan bias. Both maps were determined to be moderately competitive, and to have effectively maintained compactness.
Public hearings on the Southwest maps are scheduled for Oct. 4.
The Virginia Public Access Project has interactive maps of all the redistricting plans.
Leah Small is a freelance journalist who enjoys writing about Virginia and national politics, social justice, health, science and craft beer. Proud to be an extended member of the Cardinal News family, reporting from Richmond.