Va. political leaders name 8 legislators who’ll serve on new redistricting commission

By: - December 1, 2020 6:12 pm

The Capitol at dusk. Lawmakers have sent legislation to Gov. Glenn Youngkin giving localities new powers to go after substandard housing. (Ned Oliver/Virginia Mercury)

The group of eight Democratic and Republican legislators who will serve on Virginia’s new redistricting commission will be made up of five men and three women, including two senior members of the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus.

The legislative members, who will wield significant power over how legislative and congressional districts are redrawn when new U.S. Census data comes in next year, come from districts that touch most regions of the state, ensuring some level of geographic diversity in the process.

Leaders of the General Assembly’s four political caucuses announced their appointees to the commission this week, filling half the seats on a newly created commission voters approved in a referendum last month. Instead of having the full General Assembly draw new political maps itself, the eight legislators on the 16-person commission will work with eight citizen members to draft new maps for the decade ahead. The application window for citizens who want to serve on the commission opened this week and will close on Dec. 28.

The map-drawing process could shape which party holds power in Richmond, which incumbents can safely win re-election and which might face challenges, and how much clout geographic regions will have in the state legislature.

As they work to set up the commission, Republican and Democratic leaders in the two chambers got to pick two appointees each from their own ranks.

Those appointees are:

House Democrats

  • Del. Marcus Simon, D-Fairfax
  • Del. Delores McQuinn, D-Richmond

House Republicans

  • Del. Les Adams, R-Chatham
  • Del. Margaret Ransone, R-Westmoreland

Senate Democrats

  • Sen. Mamie Locke, D-Hampton
  • Sen. George Barker, D-Fairfax

Senate Republicans

  • Sen. Steve Newman, R-Lynchburg
  • Sen. Ryan McDougle, R-Hanover

Each two-person caucus unit is important because, according to the commission rules, each one could block a map proposal even if the other three groups support it. That system is meant to foster collaboration and bipartisanship, but if the commission fails to approve a plan it would fall to the Supreme Court of Virginia to oversee the creation of maps drawn by appointed experts.

Six of the legislative members supported the commission proposal when it was passed by the General Assembly earlier this year. The two House Democrats did not. Nor did Speaker Eileen Filler-Corn, D-Fairfax, who appointed them.

One of the opponents’ primary concerns was that the commission might not be diverse enough.

“A Redistricting Commission that represents the racial, ethnic, geographic and gender diversity of the commonwealth is necessary to ensure every Virginian has a voice in the redistricting process and in our government,” Filler-Corn said in a statement. “Commissioners will need to be committed to inclusion and dedicated to a fair redistricting process that protects the vote of every Virginian. These are the standards for individuals I am appointing as legislators today and my recommendations for citizen members to the commission moving forward.”

In an interview, Simon, who fought the redistricting amendment hard during the 2020 session and in the run-up to the election, said he expects to “be there to sort of keep an eye on things.”

“I think we want to deliver to voters what they expected,” Simon said. “Which is a fair process and maps that sort of reflect the political makeup of Virginia.”

The Senate’s picks largely reflect seniority. Locke and Barker were major supporters of the redistricting reform push. Locke is chair of the Senate Democratic Caucus, and Barker was a patron of the constitutional amendment creating the commission.

“These two leaders have the experience, knowledge, and historical context of redistricting and also are keenly aware of the importance of making sure we have diverse representation in our Commissioners,” Sen. Louse Lucas, D-Portsmouth, who made the Democrats’ picks as the president pro tempore of the Senate, said in a news release. “Senators Locke and Barker have been involved in this process for years and I know they will be a great addition to the commission.”

McDougle is the Republican caucus chair, and Newman served as president pro tempore of the Senate before Republicans lost their majority last year.

The picks from House Republicans were somewhat surprising. Neither Adams nor Ransone is a member of the House GOP leadership, and neither are seen as particularly outspoken partisan warriors.

In a news release, House Minority Leader Todd Gilbert, R-Shenandoah, noted that both Adams and Ransone “supported the creation of the commission throughout.”

“With their combined knowledge and experience, I have no doubt they will help craft what the voters have demanded — fair maps for every Virginian,” Gilbert said.

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Graham Moomaw
Graham Moomaw

A veteran Virginia politics reporter, Graham grew up in Hillsville and Lynchburg, graduating from James Madison University and earning a master's degree in journalism from the University of Maryland. Before joining the Mercury in 2019, he spent six years at the Richmond Times-Dispatch, most of that time covering the governor's office, the General Assembly and state politics. He also covered city hall and politics at The Daily Progress in Charlottesville.