More gerrymandering ahead

Published 7:52 am Friday, March 12, 2010

Despite tacit support from new Gov. Bob McDonnell, long-overdue reform of the way Virginia draws its political boundaries bit the dust again this year in the General Assembly.

That means voters will endure another decade of gerrymandered legislative districts whose aim is to protect incumbent lawmakers, political parties and racial quotas rather than to foster competitive races that give the electorate ideological choices.

State lawmakers, as they’ve done for several years running, killed legislation that would have attempted to take the partisanship out of redistricting, which occurs every decade after completion of the U.S. Census. Lawmakers must redraw lines for General Assembly and congressional districts to reflect population shifts over the previous decade.

Legislators’ bad habit in recent decades has been to creatively draw district lines so that voters of a particular party persuasion or racial identity are packed into districts that ensure the election of a candidate – often the incumbent lawmaker – of like persuasion or identity.

The result has been a dramatic rise in unopposed legislative races where voters have no choice and races where the incumbent faces only token opposition. Examples locally are Delegate Roslyn Tyler’s House district, Sen. Louise Lucas’ Senate district and U.S. Rep. Randy Forbes’ congressional district. We think a lot of Tyler and Forbes, but some serious opposition every few years would be good for both candidates. Uncompetitive districts are bad for our democracy and two-party system.

Bipartisan redistricting appeared to gain some momentum last fall when both gubernatorial candidates − Republican McDonnell and Democratic state Sen. Creigh Deeds − endorsed the concept during the campaign. House Republicans, however, remained steadfastly opposed. They shot down even lukewarm legislation that would have tasked a bipartisan citizen commission with simply making redistricting recommendations to lawmakers, who would have retained the right to have the final say.

So the gerrymandering will resume next year when 2010 Census numbers are released, ensuring another decade of limited competition in the electoral arena.