RICHMOND – If there’s one takeaway from the second day of public hearings by the bipartisan Virginia Redistricting Commission, it’s that when it comes to redrawing legislative districts, people living in the state’s Southside prefer those that allow them to be left alone with their immediate neighbors.
“I believe the most effective representation will be by a person to ensure the understanding of our counties and surrounding needs,” said Ted Daniel, a former mayor of South Boston, a town of about 7,400 people in the midst of Halifax County that in the past 25 years has lost many manufacturing jobs in tobacco farming and the textile industry. “We remain in survival mode,” said Daniel, adding that cooperating with neighboring local governments became critical as the community sought ways “to reduce the impact of the continuing economic challenges.”
But South Boston didn’t just lose jobs, it also lost almost 1,000 residents in the 20 years since the 2000 census, and the downward trend continues. Because the concept of one-person, one-vote dictates that districts should be roughly equal in population, the consultants tasked with redrawing maps are left with little flexibility but to break up current legislative districts and extend them further north – much to the frustration of many South Bostonians, who remain wary of outsiders.
“To split Halifax County away from Mecklenburg County in senatorial representation is in no way consistent with the regional cooperation that the two counties have developed,” Daniel said. “I feel the proposed senatorial districts that reach so far north are not in the interest of our citizens.”
The bipartisan redistricting commission is just days away from its Oct. 10 deadline, when the maps are due to be finalized. While the panel has sought written public input since it assumed its duties in early September, virtual public hearings allowing citizens to participate in the process only began Monday, when residents of Southwest Virginia were invited to weigh in. The panel listened to comments from residents of Southside on Tuesday.
Rick Buchanan, who was born and raised in Clarksville, a town in Mecklenburg County, said that Halifax and Mecklenburg counties have been “tied together in industry, working environment and lots of things” for decades, and that splitting them up into separate legislative districts would not be in the region’s interest. “This is a very unique area, it’s a very rural district, and we are all pretty much the same,” Buchanan said. “I strongly recommend that we keep that as an area that would be very well represented by a senator.”
Clarksville town council member Tammy Mulchi also underscored the importance of keeping Mecklenburg and Halifax counties together. “They are so similar economically that it just makes no sense to separate those,” Mulchi said.
Some callers expressed concern with drawing Danville, which borders North Carolina, into the same district as Martinsville. While both cities are geographically barely 30 miles apart, some say the economical and cultural divide is much harder to bridge. “We feel that this would be a negative impact to our community,” said Martinsville Mayor Kathy Lawson, who prefers maps that would be aligning Martinsville “more with our colleagues over in Patrick County.”
Martinville City Council member Danny Turner, who spent 26 years working in Danville, emphasized the insurmountable differences between the two cities. “I think that Danville and Martinsville are different, totally different,” he said, citing “very little interaction between the citizens.” Instead, Turner said he would like to see a legislative district that includes Martinsville, Patrick County and Franklin County, which would be “a more contiguous neighborhood than Martinsville and Danville would be in one.”
While some in Martinsville may not want to have much to do with Danville, others would welcome a larger Senate district encompassing all of Danville, Martinsville, and Pittsylvania, Henry and Franklin Counties. “I’ve never seen a perfect Senate District, but that’s a perfect Senate District right there,” said Will Pace, a resident of Pittsylvania County and the mayor of Chatham, the county seat.
Markus Schmidt is a reporter for Cardinal News. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.