GOP rips Democratic redistricting plan, says it won't pass
By SARAH RANKIN
Aug. 30, 2018
RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Virginia House Republicans on Thursday accused Democrats of attempting a partisan power grab with their proposal to fix what a federal court found were unconstitutionally gerrymandered districts, saying the plan had no chance of success.
Republicans, who narrowly control the chamber, sparred with Democrats over their proposal during the first day of a special session. It was convened by the governor in order comply with the federal court's order that lawmakers redraw the state's legislative map by Oct. 30.
Lawmakers gave floor speeches, and a committee held a hearing on the Democrats' proposed maps but took no action to advance or amend them. Lawmakers adjourned without setting another firm meeting date, leaving next steps unclear.
"I'm really sorry that you weren't able to come together and do something a little more meaningful today," Sue Lewis, president of the League of Women Voters of Virginia, told lawmakers during a public comment portion of the committee hearing.
Republican House Majority Leader Todd Gilbert said the Democrats' plan was so flawed there was no "vehicle today on which we could do any substantive work."
Gilbert said that among other issues, the proposal goes to "great lengths" to protect four vulnerable Democrats and significantly weaken five incumbent Republicans.
"This was clearly a very nakedly partisan move across the board. No question about that," he said.
The proposal even drew public criticism from one Democrat, Del. Stephen Heretick, who called it "self-serving" and "gerrymandering in response to gerrymandering."
Republican Del. Rob Bell, who spent much of the committee hearing questioning the bill's sponsor, Del. Lamont Bagby, about the new maps, said there was "no possible way it could ever pass the house and become law."
Democrats, meanwhile, accused Republicans of trying to stall while they pursue an appeal of the June court ruling. The court found that lawmakers had illegally packed black voters into 11 districts around the Richmond and Hampton Roads areas to make surrounding districts whiter and more Republican.
"We've done what we need to do, and that was to put a map on the table and try to defend it. And all they've done is, essentially, try to criticize it with no alternative," said Democratic House Minority Leader Del. David Toscano.
He said in a statement that the chamber was at an "impasse."
Republicans, who have a 51-49 majority, have asked that the October deadline be put off until the U.S. Supreme Court weighs in on the case. The court denied that request in an order Thursday.
"Delaying construction of a remedial plan until after the conclusion of Supreme Court review likely would result in the 2019 elections, the last election cycle before the 2020 census, proceeding under the unconstitutional districts," the court wrote.
Gilbert said his party would publicly commit to "trying" to return to Richmond by Sept. 21. An exact date will be up to GOP House Speaker Kirk Cox.
Democratic attempts to push for a sooner return date and to set another committee hearing failed to advance.
Before lawmakers convened, redistricting advocacy group OneVirginia2021 announced it had assembled a bipartisan group of citizens to draft a constitutional amendment to ensure a nonpartisan redistricting process following the 2020 census. A constitutional amendment must be approved by twice by the General Assembly in separate sessions before going to voters in a referendum, meaning the process would need to start in next year's legislative session.
"I think what's going on this afternoon totally proves the point that you need to take redistricting away from the politicians," George Grant, a volunteer with the group, said.