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Senate plan puts Smith in Newman’s district

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By John Barnhart

    A redistricting plan, under consideration by the Virginia Senate, would make substantial changes in State Senator Steve Newman’s district.

    “It is mostly my old district,” Newman said.
    Newman would still have Bedford County, and also get Botetourt and Craig counties. Newman said that Botetourt has 33,000 people and Craig County, with 5,000 residents, has a smaller population than the city of Bedford.
    He would also get State Senator Ralph Smith in his district. The move would mean that Smith, who currently represents the Senate’s 22nd District, would be living in Newman’s 23rd district.
    “I’d say they took a pretty good shot at trying to eliminate as many conservatives as they could,” Newman said, noting that he and Smith are almost identical ideologically. Newman said that the Senate’s Democrats have put another pair of conservative incumbents in the same district.
    The General Assembly began action on redistricting plans Monday and Newman said that districts probably won’t be finalized until June or July, maybe as late as August.
    Newman said that the Senate Privileges and Elections Committee will put a plan on the Senate floor. After three days of reading and amendments, the Senate votes on a plan, which then goes to the House of Delegates. Meanwhile, the House develops its plan for House districts and sends it to the Senate. According to Newman, both chambers have an agreement that they will not amend each other’s bills.
    Once Governor Robert McDonnell receives the redistricting bills, he can either sign them, amend them, or veto them. If he vetoes the bill, it goes back to the Senate for an attempt to override his veto. Although Democrats have a majority in the Senate, it’s a slim majority and Newman believes that the governor’s veto would be sustained.
    He thinks that the governor will probably amend the plan. It will then go back to the Senate where he expects that the governor’s amendments would be rejected. At that point, Gov. McDonnell would only be able to sign the bill or veto it.
    Once Virginia has a redistricting plan, that plan must be approved by the U. S. Department of Justice. Virginia is one of  nine states that must do this, a result of the Voting Rights Act of 1964 which requires this clearance for states and localities that had a history disenfranchising minorities.    
    Newman also expects a lawsuit to be filed. The suit will be based on the proposed districts deviating by as much as 2 percent from having exactly identical populations. Newman believes that recent court cases require no more than a .5 percent deviation and said that no deviation is permitted in Congressional districts. He said that modern computers make this possible.
    According to Newman, along with being a case of politically motivated gerrymandering, the Senate plan splits communities of interest. It also would create a situation in which a person in Craig County would have to drive half way across the state to have a face-to-face talk with his state senator.
    However, Newman expects to make the best of it if his district ends up looking as it does in the Senate plan released last week.
    “I’m very upbeat, I love challenges,” he said. “I have a good car and it drives well on the road.”
    “It’s a violation of law, but it’s OK,” he added.
    The proposed 23rd district would include 76 percent of the current 23rd, plus 24 percent of the current 22nd, including Smith’s house.