Every election has winners and losers. So, too, does every redistricting.
Some of those have names. At least half the legislators who find themselves drawn into districts with other legislators are losers, or will be.
At least half of all candidates always lose, though, so let’s not worry so much right now about the politicians, let’s see which voters win and lose, because some localities get treated better than others.
1. Vinton, Bonsack, Hollins, Northside and the Catawba sections of Roanoke County. Voters here are definitely losers in the state Senate map (see above). Right now, they’re represented by a legislator from their own county – Republican David Suetterlein, who lives in southwest Roanoke County. Under the proposed map, though, he would no longer be the senator for these parts of Roanoke County. They would get drawn into a Senate district that would go all the way up to Staunton and Waynesboro. There’s no incumbent in that district and we obviously have no idea who that district might elect and where he or she would be from, but the reality is that these parts of Roanoke County could go from having a senator just a few miles away – someone voters there might run into at a Salem Red Sox game, for instance (Suetterlein is a big baseball fan) – to the prospect of having a senator nearly two hours away.
2. Staunton, Waynesboro and Augusta County. Same coin, different side. Right now, these localities are all represented by Republican Emmett Hanger of Augusta County. Under this map, most of them wouldn’t be. Augusta would be split and Hanger would wind up in a different district from Staunton, Waynesboro and southeastern Augusta. All of that would be in a district that would run south to the aforementioned parts of Roanoke County, although, if you want to be technical, parts of Craig County would be even farther from the northern parts of this proposed district. If Roanoke County voters would be disadvantaged by a senator from Staunton, Waynesboro or Augusta, then the same would be true in reverse. How would voters from Stuarts Draft feel if their senator was way off in Sinking Creek? I understand that districts in this part of the state have to get bigger geographically, and not everybody is going to be happy. But there are other ways to draw these districts. That’s why I rate Staunton, Waynesboro and Augusta County as potential losers under the Senate map.
In fact, it’s electorally possible that Staunton/Waynesboro/Augusta County would wind up with no legislators in Richmond. Hanger is drawn into a district that includes two other senators – Democrat Creigh Deeds of Bath County and Republican Mark Obenshain of Rockingham County. Unless something changes, two of those would be gone. That’s a lot of seniority to lose. Realistically, Deeds is a goner. Rural voters have realigned too much; this district would be 66.7% Republican, according to data provided by the court’s special masters who drew these maps. So the question is whether Hanger or Obenshain goes? If Hanger goes, it’s entirely possible Staunton/Waynesboro/Augusta has none of its own in the state Senate. Meanwhile, on the House side, Del. John Avoli, R-Staunton, is drawn into the same district as Del. Ronnie Campbell, R-Rockbridge County. Depending on how that works out, there would be no one with Staunton, Waynesboro or Augusta after their names in the legislature. That’s a far cry from the days when Augusta had senior legislators such as Steve Landes, Pete Giesen or Frank Nolen, sometimes at the same time.
3. Roanoke County. Yes, we just dealt with some of the county as it relates to one state Senate district. Now let’s look at why the whole county is a loser in House districts, as well. Right now, the county is divided between two House districts. The county constitutes the vast majority of the district now represented by Republican Chris Head (even though he’s in Botetourt County), and a strong plurality of the district represented by Joe McNamara (who does live in Roanoke County). Under the proposed map, Roanoke County would be split three ways and the political weight shifts away from the county in two of those three. Eastern Roanoke County, including Vinton, would get attached to Franklin County. Much of rural Roanoke County, mostly Catawba and Bent Mountain, would get attached to most of Montgomery County. Meanwhile, the Roanoke County share of the remaining district – essentially, McNamara’s district – would increase. Right now, Roanoke County is likely to elect two of its own as delegates (even if at present it’s only electing one). Under this proposed map, the odds are it would only elect one.
Furthermore, that Blacksburg-to-Bent Mountain district is rated as competitive. The special masters, using 2017 data, rate this district as 51.1% Democratic and 48.9% Republican. The Virginia Public Access Project, using 2016 data, puts the district at 47.2% for Donald Trump that year, 44.9% for Hillary Clinton. (Why are they using old data? See point 10 in this piece.) Either way, this is a district that could go either way. That’s great for democracy – competitive districts are a good thing – but if you’re a Republican in Roanoke County (which most Roanoke County voters are), you’d go from an automatic Republican district to one that could get represented by a Democrat from Blacksburg. In terms of both geopolitical clout, and reflecting the will of the votes, that’s why I rate Roanoke County as a loser in the House maps.
4. Montgomery County. The analysis above would seem to suggest these maps are a good thing for Montgomery County, which would dominate this Blacksburg-to-Bent Mountain district in the House. I’m not so sure. I’d still rate Montgomery County as a loser. Montgomery is currently split among three House districts and, come January, won’t have a single resident in Richmond. Under this plan it would be split between two House districts and would dominate one of those. That’s certainly an improvement. It would have the plurality in the district that would include Del.-elect Jason Ballard, R-Giles County. Still, the way Montgomery County and the rest of the New River is split seems weird – Blacksburg and Radford are in different districts, so are Blacksburg and Christiansburg – and I’m not prepared to say that weird cartography is a winner. At best, I’d call the Montgomery House maps a draw. However, those who had hoped the county would get united in a single state Senate district don’t get their wish; the county is still split and Blacksburg, instead of being in a district with Roanoke the way it is now, would find itself in a state Senate district that stretches to Tazewell County. For me, that’s enough to say Montgomery County comes out a loser on the Senate side.
5. Franklin County. Ah, now here’s a clear winner. In this year’s Republican primary, incumbent Charles Poindexter of Franklin County lost to challenger Wren Williams of Patrick County. The geographical consequence of that is Franklin County is now set to not have one of its own in the House of Delegates for the first time since, well, I’m not sure when. As long as I can remember, there’s always been someone from Franklin County in the House of Delegates. Under this proposed plan, Franklin County would get attached to eastern Roanoke County. While it’s possible someone from Bonsack or Vinton might run and win, the political weight of that district would be in Franklin County – 63%. Franklin seems destined to get one of its own in the House. Poindexter could make a comeback if he wanted to. Meanwhile, his successor, Williams, gets a bad draw – even if it is geographically logical. He and another Republican newcomer, Marie March of Floyd County, get paired in the same district. They each just got elected in November and so haven’t served a day in the legislature, yet one of them is already in jeopardy. That district, though, is pretty logically drawn so they’re just the victims of geographical bad luck. Back to Franklin: The county, now split between state Senate districts, gets united again.
6. Lynchburg. Here’s another winner. Not just a single winner or a double winner, but a triple winner. Right now, the city is split between two House districts and two Senate districts. Under these plans, it would stay whole in a single House district and a single Senate district. Now, to be fair, there is a contrarian point of view: At present, Lynchburg can effectively claim two state senators – Republican Mark Peake lives in the city, Republican Steve Newman lives in the Bedford County suburbs. Under this plan, they’d be in the same district. I will concede that argument. But the fact that they’re both in office is somewhat accidental. The eastern end of Peake’s district (which stretches almost to the Richmond suburbs in Goochland and Louisa counties) has more population than Lynchburg. In a blank slate election, a Lynchburg candidate wouldn’t necessarily have an advantage, geographically speaking. Likewise, two Republican delegates – Wendell Walker of Lynchburg and Kathy Byron of Campbell County – get paired in that House district that unites the city. That’s bad for one of them but not necessarily for the region geopolitically, because there’s an open House seat created from northern Bedford (including the Lynchburg suburbs in Forest) that runs north to Amherst County and part of Nelson County. The odds are the Lynchburg metro would still have a delegate in residence, just a different residence from where the current ones live. Uniting Lynchburg in a single House district and a single Senate gives the city more political power in both (something Montgomery County and Roanoke County will miss under these maps).
Lynchburg also gains geo-political power in the congressional map. Going back to at least the 1930s and perhaps beyond, Lynchburg has always been part of the same district as the Roanoke Valley. It’s also always been the second biggest metro area in the district and rarely has been able to elect one of its own candidates. Under the proposed maps, Lynchburg, Amherst County and the Forest area of Bedford County get moved into the 5th District. Suddenly Lynchburg would be the most populous locality in that district, and the Lynchburg metro becomes the political center of gravity. The 5th District congressman, Republican Bob Good, is from Campbell County, so this would seem a good thing for him. Those who don’t care for Good’s far-right politics won’t like that, but, geopolitically speaking, Lynchburg comes out a big winner in the congressional redistricting.
7. Charlottesville. Those poor Charlottesville Democrats. They didn’t like being in the 5th District to begin with – too many rural conservative voters. They wanted out. Alas for them, this map keeps Charlottesville in the 5th and even makes it more conservative by a percentage point or so. That’s why I rate Charlottesville a loser.
8. Albemarle County. This one is complicated. In the House of Delegates and state Senate maps, the county is a clear winner twice over. Right now, this Democratic-voting county is split among four House districts, and three of those are represented by Republicans, one of them across the mountains in the Shenandoah Valley, one of them south of Lynchburg in Campbell County. These maps split Albemarle County just two ways (for population reasons, that has to be done) and both would be Democratic districts. Bad news for Republicans in Albemarle, but most voters there are Democrats and we do live under “majority rules.” In the state Senate, Albemarle is now split two ways, with an out-of-town Republican (Bryce Reeves of Spotsylvania) representing one part and an out-of-town Democrat (Creigh Deeds of Bath) representing the other. These proposed maps keep Albemarle whole and it would dominate a district entirely east of the Blue Ridge. Again, winner. The congressional maps are more complicated. They split Albemarle – usually a sure sign of a loser. Southern Albemarle remains in the 5th, where it didn’t want to be. So, definitely a loser. But northern Albemarle gets drawn into a district that would run up U.S. 29 to Loudoun County and is rated competitive, with a slight Democratic tilt (the special masters call it 52.6% Democratic). So Democrats in northern Albemarle could claim that their part of the county comes out a winner.
9. Southside Virginia. The 5th District as currently drawn is perhaps the most gerrymandered in the state. Once a district completely in Southside, it now runs all the way to the Northern Virginia suburbs, reducing Southside’s voting power. Under this map, the 5th returns to a more traditional shape. The addition of Lynchburg, Amherst County and the Forest section of Bedford County helps solidify the 5th as a district focused on the southern part of Virginia. Under this plan, the 5th becomes more focused on localities south of the James River. In terms of geographical clout, Southside is definitely a winner.
10. Southwest Virginia. The state’s southwest corner is a loser that has nothing to do with how the lines are drawn. Because Southwest is losing population, but the state as a whole is gaining population, far Southwest has to lose a House seat and all the legislative seats in Southwest have to get drawn bigger. On the House side, Republicans Israel O’Quinn and Will Wampler Jr. of Washington County would get paired in the same district. That seems unavoidable, though, since they live in the same county and the mapmakers say they were trying to avoid splitting localities (even though they sure did a lot of that anyway). Elsewhere, as we’ve seen, both Republicans Wren Williams in Patrick County and Marie March in Floyd County get drawn into the same district. In the Roanoke Valley (which may or may not be part of Southwest Virginia, depending on your point of view), both Terry Austin and Chris Head — two Republican delegates from Botetourt County — are paired in the same district. However, there’s also an open seat district created from Blacksburg to Bent Mountain, so there’s no loss of a seat there — but the potential loss of a specific legislator. A Republican majority in the House might have drawn the lines differently but not even they could avoid the unforgiving math.
11. Wythe County. The county is split now between Senate districts. Under the proposed map, it would still be split. Still, I’ll rate the county a loser. It’s split now because of gerrymandering. It would be split in the future because the mapmakers apparently couldn’t figure out another option. Further, it’s a weird split. At least now, both parts of Wythe are in districts that are either wholly or mostly west of the Blue Ridge (even if the latter one, now held by David Suetterlein, R-Roanoke County, iis oddly shaped). Under the proposed map, Wythe would be part of a district that’s mostly east of the Blue Ridge – with 55% of the population in Franklin County, Henry County and Martinsville. This is a raw deal and a classic example of how the district looks nicely-shaped on paper but on the ground makes no sense.
12. Henry County. Let’s close out things with a winner, at least a partial one. Right now, Henry County is split among three House districts and doesn’t come close to commanding a majority in any of them – the highest percentage is now 28%. Under the proposed map, Henry would be split only two ways and in one of those districts, it would constitute 40% of the vote. Together, Henry and Martinsville would constitute nearly 56% of the vote in a district now held by Les Adams, R-Pittsylvania County, up from 45% now. Things could have been even better for Henry County. Between Henry and Martinsville, they have enough population that they don’t need to be split at all – they could constitute almost a whole House district, with a piece of some neighboring county added in. Still, this represents a comeback of sorts for a district that once was home to the speaker of the House (A.L. Philpott), then the House minority leader (Ward Armstrong) and then got chopped up like a snake in the garden because Republicans were afraid the county had too many Democrats. There was a time when Henry County (and neighboring Patrick County) was a political center for the Democratic Party, producing multiple governors (including Gerald Baliles in modern times) and attorneys general (including Mary Sue Terry not that long ago) and other senior legislators such as Roscoe Reynolds. Republicans don’t have to worry about that these days; realignment had made this part of Virginia (Martinsville excepted) quite red. Now someday, Henry County might even get one of its own back in the legislature.