RICHMOND — Republicans forced through changes to Virginia’s Senate district boundaries today, dramatically reshaping districts in the Roanoke and New River valleys and putting Democrat Creigh Deeds of Bath County and Republican Emmett Hanger of Augusta County into the same district.
The changes, which would not take effect until the 2015 Senate elections, also create a new black majority district in Southside Virginia.
The Senate approved the new boundaries on a party-line vote of 20-19. Democrat Henry Marsh of Richmond was attending President Barack Obama’s inauguration Monday and missed the Senate floor session.
The surprise move blindsided Senate Democrats and reopened partisan wounds that were inflicted last year, when Republicans used the tie-breaking vote of Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling to seize working control of the evenly divided chamber. Democrats said the Republican gambit could ruin chances for bipartisan cooperation on transportation funding, the state budget, and other issues this year.
“It throws into jeopardy everything they need that 21st vote for,” Deeds said.
If Marsh had been present and voted with the Democrats, Bolling’s tie-breaking vote would have decided the issue. And Bolling would not have supported the Republican plan, a spokeswoman said.
“He fears that this action could set a dangerous precedent for future redistricting actions, and he is concerned that it could create a hyper-partisan atmosphere that could make it very difficult for us to address other important priorities like transportation and education reform,” Bolling spokeswoman Ibbie Hedrick said.
Gov. Bob McDonnell, who would have to sign off on the changes to put them into law, was caught off guard by Republican senators, a spokesman said.
“The governor was very surprised to learn that a redistricting bill would be voted on by the Senate today,” McDonnell spokesman Tucker Martin said. “He has not seen this legislation. If the bill gets to his desk he will review it in great detail at that time as he did with prior redistricting legislation.”
Martin also underscored that McDonnell’s legislative priorities are transportation, education and the state budget, and not redistricting.
The House of Delegates would have to approve the Senate’s plan for the bill to get to McDonnell’s desk. And if the plan became law, it likely would be challenged in court, Democrats said.
The Senate attached the redrawn districts as an amendment to a bill (HB 259) that makes minor changes to several House of Delegates districts.
The General Assembly passed a redistricting plan in 2011, when Democrats had a majority in the Senate. Lawmakers typically make only minor adjustments to district boundaries until the next decennial redistricting occurs.
The plan would put Deeds and Hanger together in a district covering Bath, Highland and Augusta counties, part of the Albemarle County and the cities of Charlottesville, Staunton and Waynesboro.
Ironically, Deeds defeated Hanger in a 1991 House of Delegates election after House Democrats dramatically redrew Hanger’s district.
Deeds current Senate district stretches from Bath County to Charlottesville, but also includes Alleghany and Rockbridge counties and the cites of Lexington and Buena Vista. Those localities would become part of the 19th District, now represented by Republican Ralph Smith. Smith, who has had official residences in Botetourt and Roanoke counties, now claims Bedford County as his official voting address.
Democrat John Edwards of Roanoke would lose Montgomery County from his district and pick up Pulaski, Craig, Bland and Wythe counties.
Montgomery County, Radford and 11 Roanoke County precincts would be shifted to the 20th District, now represented by Republican Bill Stanley of Franklin County. All of Franklin County would be in the district.
“It’s an underhanded, sneak attack,” Edwards said of the Republican-engineered changes.
Sen. John Watkins, R-Powhatan, said the revised Senate districts improve upon the current map by creating a sixth black majority district anchored in Southside Virginia. The district would extend from Danville to Chesterfield County.
“There is a large and reasonably compact African American community,” Watkins said.”They are politically cohesive. And the racial groups demonstrate polarization in voting preferences.”
– Michael Sluss
Here are details of what Western Virginia’s Senate districts would look like if this plan becomes law:
19th District, now represented by Ralph Smith, R-Bedford County.
You’ll recall that Smith made his home in Botetourt County when Democrats drew him into the same district with fellow Republican Steve Newman of Lynchburg in 2011. Smith rented a home on Bent Mountain in Roanoke County and was elected in the new 19th District. He now has moved his official residence Bedford County, which would be part of the new 19th District. The district would inlclude:
All of Alleghany, Botetourt, and Rockbridge Counties; all of the Cities of Buena Vista, Covington, Lexington, and Salem; part of Bedford County comprised of the Body Camp Elem School (204), Chamblissburg First Aid Bldg (103), Goodview Elem School (101), Hardy Fire & Rescue Bldg (102), Moneta Elem School (203), Montvale Elem School (601), Saunders Grove Brethren Church (604), Saunders Vol Fire Dept (205), Shady Grove Baptist Church (602), Staunton River High School (202), and Thaxton Elem School (603) Precincts; and part of Roanoke County comprised of the Bonsack (402), Castle Rock (305), Clearbrook (505), Garst Mill (306), Hunting Hills (507), Lindenwood (405), Mount Pleasant (406), Mount Vernon (506), Mountain View (203), North Vinton (403), Oak Grove (304), Ogden (504), Orchards (205), Plantation (201), South Vinton (404), and Windsor Hills (303).
20th District, represented by Sen. Bill Stanley, R-Franklin County.
Stanley also played musical chairs after the 2011 redistricting, moving from the 19th District into the 20th District. Under the plan passed today, all of Franklin County would be in the 20th District and so would Montgomery County, which is now in the 20th District and represented by Democrat John Edwards of Roanoke.
The 20th also would pick up Radford, one Floyd County precinct and the following Roanoke County precincts: Bent Mountain (301), Cave Spring (503), Cotton Hill (501), Glenvar (103), Green Hill (106), Mason Valley (102), Northside (104), Penn Forest (502), Peters Creek (105), Poages Mill (302), and Wildwood (108) .
21st District, represented by Sen. John Edwards, D-Roanoke.
Edwards would lose Montgomery County, and gain Craig. Bland, Pulaski and Wythe counties. The entire 21st would look like this:
All of Bland, Craig, Giles, Pulaski, and Wythe Counties; all of the City of Roanoke; and part of Roanoke County comprised of the Bennett Springs (107), Botetourt Springs (204), Burlington (202), Catawba (101), and Hollins (206) precincts.
23rd District, represented by Sen. Steve Newman, R-Lynchburg
Newman’s district was was redrawn in 2011 to stretch from Lynchburg to the West Virginia border and include part of Roanoke County and all of Botetourt County. Under the new plan, the district no longer would cover the Roanoke Valley and would look like this:
All of Amherst and Nelson Counties; all of the Cities of Bedford and Lynchburg; part of Bedford County comprised of the Bedford Christian Church (703), Bedford County PSA (302), Bethesda Methodist Church (303), Big Island Elem School (502), Boonsboro Elem School (505), Boonsboro Ruritan Club (506), Forest Elem School (401), Forest Youth Athletic Assoc. (304), Goode Rescue Squad (701), Huddleston Elem School (305), Knights Of Columbus Bldg (403), Liberty High School (702), New London Academy (301), Odd Fellows Hall (504), Pleasant View (507), Sedalia Center (503), Suck Springs (704), and Thomas Jefferson Elem School (402) Precincts; and part of Campbell County comprised of the Airport (601), Altavista (303), Bedford Springs (202), Brookville (101), Evington (301), Lynch Station (302), New London (102), Spring Hill (501), and Walker (201) Precincts.
24th District, represented by Emmett Hanger, R-Augusta County.
Hanger’s Shenandoah Valley-centered district and Deeds’ sprawling 25th District would be merged and would look like this:
All of Augusta, Bath, and Highland Counties; all of the Cities of Charlottesville, Staunton, and Waynesboro; and part of Albemarle County comprised of the Belfield (204), Brownsville (604), Crozet (601), East Ivy (304), Free Union (602), Ivy (301), Jack Jouett (201), University Hall (202), and Yellow Mountain (605) precincts.
25th District, represented by Creigh Deeds, D-Bath County.
The 25th District would be redrawn as a black majority district that extends from Danville all the way to Chesterfield County.
38th District, represented by Phillip Puckett, D-Russell County.
The 2011 redistricting brought the 38th District all the way up to Radford. The new map approved today would put the enitire district in far Southwest Virginia, covering all of Buchanan, Dickenson, Lee, Russell, Tazewell, and Wise counties; the City of Norton; and part of Scott County.
40th District, represented by Bill Carrico, R-Grayson County.
The 40th District would pick up four Floyd County precincts: Burns Fork (401), Courthouse (301), Indian Valley (501), and Little River (201). It would cover all of Carroll, Grayson, Patrick, Smyth, and Washington counties and the cities of Bristol and Galax; and part of Scott County.