I've said it before, and I'll say it again -- bipartisan/nonpartisan redistricting is one of the most important reforms we need in the Commonwealth of Virginia. Election districts should not be drawn to create "safe seats" for either party -- otherwise you end up with a substantial number of elections that are routinely non-contested or realistically non-contestable, and you tend to see increased polarization in the body politic. Competition is good for the health of our democracy.
Thankfully our State Senator, Creigh Deeds, is leading a charge to change the way that the democratic process works in Virginia, so that the democratic process might actually WORK in Virginia. Below is a message that Sen. Deeds sent out today with some positive news on this subject. My commendations to the good Senator.
January 29, 2008
For the last six years I have introduced a proposal to create a bi-partisan redistricting process that will make our state legislative and congressional elections more competitive and help to end the partisan rancor and
bitterness that hold our government back. Last week, as chairman of the Senate Privileges and Elections Subcommittee on Constitutional Amendments, Reapportionment and Referenda I consolidated the work of both my Republican and Democratic colleagues and today that legislation, Senate Bill 38, was reported to the Senate floor.
This is a reform that enjoys wide bi-partisan support: Earlier today, I stood with Governor Tim Kaine and Lt. Governor Bill Bolling at a press conference to announce the endorsement of this proposal by former Governors Mark Warner and George Allen, as well as the Virginia Chamber of Commerce.
Both political parties have used redistricting as a partisan tool in the past to protect incumbents and expand their majorities, but the time for reform is now. With control of the legislature split between both parties and the next round of redistricting on the horizon, we must pass this legislation so that voters are the ones choosing their elected officials--not the other way around.
Over the years I have made some changes to my proposal to create a bi-partisan redistricting process to build support and respond to the concerns of my fellow legislators. But this year's bill retains the key components and is even stronger due to the contributions of my colleagues Republican and Democratic alike, Senators Stolle, Cuccinelli, and Howell. The differences this year include:
* Instead of a constitutional amendment which must be voted on in two different sessions of the General Assembly and then passed by the voters, this year's proposal is a change to the Code of Virginia and only requires passage in both houses and the signature of the Governor
* Senate Bill 38 requires a six-member commission evenly split between the two political parties with a seventh independent member; in the past I've proposed the commission have 13 members
* Because this is no longer an amendment to the state constitution, the proposal now has an important section on legislative process to ensure that the bill complies with the Virginia Constitution and the rules of both the House of Delegates and the State Senate
Just as in years past, though, the proposal calls for a strict set of criteria to be used in the process of drawing legislative districts. The Commission may not use the addresses of incumbent legislators; nor may they use political party or voter history data except to ensure that the new redistricting proposal complies with the Civil Rights Act and that the districts are as compact and competitive as practicable.
I believe that this is an important reform that will go a long way towards restoring civility and a spirit of cooperation at the General Assembly. It will also ensure that voters have choices at the ballot box and that their voice will be heard.
I hope you will join me in supporting bi-partisan redistricting by contacting my office by email at email@example.com or by telephone at 804-698-7525. Of course, if you have any questions or concerns about other legislation before the General Assembly, my legislative assistant, Davis Walsh, and I are here to help. As always, it is my sincere pleasure to serve you in the Senate of Virginia.
Very Truly Yours,
Bob Gibson has the story here.