Redistricting for safety

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he Fifth Congressional District in Virginia is already a monstrosity that stretches from Danville to Charlottesville, but a draft plan for the commonwealth’s new districts released last week reeks of gerrymandering and protectionism that borders on the absurd.

    Under the reported congressional district plan, as released by Politico.com and posted on the Bearing Drift Web site, the Fifth District would stretch from the North Carolina state line to Warrenton in northern Virginia, splitting the state and forming a district that would be unmanageable for one congressman to support. The question would quickly become, who would be left unrepresented?
    The congressional delegation has reportedly put its stamp of approval on the plan. That’s no wonder; it would apparently protect all of the incumbents—eight Republicans and three Democrats. But surely a better plan can be crafted.
    “This is partisan gerrymandering at its worst,” C. Douglas Smith, executive director of the Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy and chairman of the Virginia Redistricting Coalition stated this week. “They’ve ignored voters’ communities of interest to reinforce their own self-interests.”
    “If this secret plan stands, they ought to call it: the U.S. House of Self-Preservation,” said Olga Hernandez, president of the League of Women Voters of Virginia.
    They’re right. Congressional seats are being protected to the detriment of the constituents.
    As proposed, the Fifth District takes on the shape of an ostrich, but apparently it’s the congressional delegation which is hiding its head in the sand. The plan has most of the district heading north to the detriment of citizens to the south.
    Could the Fifth really expect for newly-elected Republican Robert Hurt to cover that vast amount of area? Bedford saw a lot of Democrat Tom Perriello, after his victory in the Fifth in 2008, but even Perriello, known for his hard-working style, would have been challenged by the newly proposed district configuration to be seen here as much as he was.
    The Sixth District would also push north, under the plan, though it would not be nearly as reconfigured as the Fifth. Bedford County, under the plan, would totally fall into the Fifth, instead of having its northern edge be represented by the Sixth.
    Politics will always play a part when districts are redrawn but this is beyond reasonable. In an attempt to protect themselves, the congressional delegation is supporting an unrealistic district for the Fifth. They can do better.
    Yes, congressmen don’t actually draw the district lines — that responsibility is in the hands of the General Assembly and the governor.  The very fact, however, that the delegation would support the proposed plan is disturbing.
    A spokeswoman for House Majority Leader Eric Cantor of the 7th District said she is confident that the General Assembly and governor will “do a wonderful job” with the redistricting plan. Let’s hope she’s right. Constituents in the Fifth District deserve better.
    “These seats in Congress don’t belong to the incumbents, they belong to the people,” stated Richmond business leader and Coalition member E. Bryson Powell about redistricting.
    We agree. The residents of Virginia—and especially the Fifth District—deserve better.