The Bulletin

‘We have had the airing of the grievances’; Va. Redistricting Commission moves on to Congressional maps

By: - October 11, 2021 12:31 pm

Draft maps are presented at a meeting of the Virginia Redistricting Commission. (Ned Oliver/Virginia Mercury)

Members of the Virginia Redistricting Commission said Monday they’ll move on to redrawing the state’s 11 congressional districts after efforts to reach a compromise on General Assembly maps ended in a stalemate last week.

Monday’s meeting was nonetheless dominated by grousing from both Democrats and Republicans about the commission’s implosion Friday, where three Democratic members walked out after Republicans rejected a compromise offer put forward by Democrats.

“So yes, we have had the airing of the grievances,” said the commission’s Republican co-chair, Mackenzie K. Babichenko, as she moved to wrap up the meeting.

Republican members of the committee accused Democrats of “sandbagging” them at the last meeting and questioned whether the Democratic co-chair, Greta Harris, had technically resigned during the last meeting when she stood up and said she was “removing herself” from the commission.

“I’m not aware of any reason that a verbal resignation is not effective in Virginia and I think that’s going to be important before we come back and start taking votes — that we have some clarification about what exactly we have here,” said Del. Les Adams, R-Pittsylvania.

Harris, who helped preside over Monday’s meeting, never said explicitly she was resigning and told commission members Monday that that was not her intention.

Sen. Mamie Locke, D-Hampton, accused Adams of attempting to “stir the pot and disrupt the commission’s work … pointing a finger at a commissioner who clarifies what her position was.”

Meanwhile, Sen. Ryan McDougle, R-Hanover, cast Friday’s meeting as “a total set up” by Democrats, who had proposed adopting a GOP-drawn House of Delegates map in exchange for a Democrat-drawn Senate map.

McDougle argued that Senate map, which had never before been presented, “looked to me to be a very clear partisan gerrymander.” He accused Democrats of posturing in an effort to “lock in a record for the Supreme Court to look at” when it ultimately takes up the maps.

Commissioner James Abrenio, a citizen member from Fairfax, responded that the Senate map the party presented was based on public comment the commission had received last week. “The goal was not to sandbag, the goal was to offer a 50-50 compromise,” he said.

The commission resolved to meet again Thursday to begin work on the congressional maps. Members of both parties sounded hopeful that it would be easier to find a compromise at the federal level.

For one, Sen. George Barker, D-Fairfax, noted that the commission won’t have to decide whether to consider incumbent residency — an ongoing sticking point in discussions about statehouse maps — because federal rules don’t require members of Congress to live in their districts.

“When we come together on Thursday, I hope that we will be talking to each other to build consensus,” said Babichenko. “If we can’t work it out, we can’t work it out. But it shouldn’t be because we were unwilling to try.”

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Ned Oliver
Ned Oliver

Ned, a Lexington native, has been a fulltime journalist since 2008, beginning at The News-Gazette in Lexington, and including stints at the Berkshire Eagle, in Berkshire County, Mass., and the Times-Dispatch and Style Weekly in Richmond. He is a graduate of Bard College at Simon’s Rock, in Great Barrington, Mass. He was named Virginia's outstanding journalist for 2020 by the Virginia Press Association. Contact him at [email protected]

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