Redistricting the state
Parties to deliberate plans
“God has given me the opportunity to represent the people of Virginia at this level for 20 years, and if tomorrow if God said ‘it’s time to open a new chapter in your life’, I would gladly do it,” Sen. Steve Newman (R-23) said Friday.
With the new redistricting plan to be passed by the Virginia State Senate in the coming days, Newman’s district, along with most other Virginia State Senators, will be opening a new chapter in the political — and maybe personal — lives. The new plan, known as the Howell Plan, was proposed by the Democratic Party and passed when voted on during the Monday session. Four other plans were proposed, including the Republican’s plan, referred to as the Watkins-Vogel Plan.
A decision concerning the new district boundaries had not been made as of press time Monday.
Redistricting must be done every 10 years in compliance with the Equal Protection Clause to accommodate growth and change, which is dictated by the recent 2010 census results.
“There needed to be changes in the districts because the population has basically shifted North to the Washington, D.C. area,” Newman said. “Our area needed to lose a portion of a state senate (seat), but not too much. My district actually was over populated. I would have had to shed people. We could have very easily expanded Southwest and Central Virginia a bit and solved that problem without losing another seat at all.”
However, the Howell plan redefines the current districts by stretching the boundaries across the state, causing much strife among — and within — party lines. The new plan combines four Republican Senators Districts, meaning that Republican’s will race against their own party to secure a senate seat.
“They decided not only to redistrict, and not only partisan re-district — you can kind of expect that out of a party — they’ve just taken it to absolute extremes,” Newman said. “They obviously did it to try and retain control, and we get that.”
The Democratic redistrict plan pushes the current districts further North, stretching the boundaries and creating seemingly awkward new districts in hopes of maintaining control of the state, Newman said. The new districts significantly impacts four Republican senators, including Sen. Bill Stanley (R-19), Sen. Ralph Smith (R-22) and Sen. Stephen Newman (R-23).
“When you get to the details of who in the Republican Party they went after, they went after the conservatives,” Newman said. “There are only really five or six of the true conservatives. Every single one of the conservatives they tried to get or they got. So this is a huge conservative tax on the conservatives.”
Newman’s district now includes 24 percent of Smith’s current district, stripping Smith of his constituents. He still maintains 76 percent of his current district.
“Sen. Ralph Smith, who they have combined me with, is one of the most noble men in the legislator,” Newman said. “He is a good legislator. He is a very solid friend. I really hate that this has happened to such a good man. I am going to make sure I am very supportive of (him). He is a solid fellow conservative.”
According to Newman, the Democratic Party had an agenda when drawing the new district boundaries.
“The wanted to get Sen. Mark D. Obenshain (R-26), and they literally tried everything they could do,” Newman said. “They admitted early on that they couldn’t do it because they would put their members in danger, so that remained whole although they wanted him badly.”
“Their desire is to make sure that they have a control in the Virginia Senate for Democrats. The way they did it, they did it by trying to take out and eliminate as many conservatives within the Republican Party as they possibly could. The new district lines will force some constituents to travel several hours, forcing them to drive past other state senators, in order to meet with their own senator.
“Basically, you will have people who will wake up and need to see their state senator, and they will have to drive about halfway across the state to visit with him,” Newman said. “He will be passing by, on the way, many other state senators along the way while getting to his state senator.”
“That’s really a pretty cruel thing in a democracy to do to people,” he said.
In addition to longer travel distances, the new plan incurs some other issues such as problems with Section V of the Equal Protection Clause, which deals mainly with the minority vote.
“I foresee that they have diluted or unpacked the minority vote in a number of districts,” Newman said. “The standard has basically been that minority districts have to be at or near 55 percent minority to be pre-cleared. In some of these cases, they have reduced them down to 49 percent. In other states, that’s not been acceptable under the Department of Justice.”
The Howell Plan may also violate rules of deviation, pushing the limits of legality, according to Cox v. Larios, where a similar situation occurred and the Supreme Court ruled that the actions “violate the one-man, one-vote principal of the Equal Protection Clause.”
“You needed to be somewhere close to a half of a percent of deviation,” Newman said. “The senate democrats have chosen 2 percent, or four times what the deviation is required.”
The new district plan also splits some communities.
“I think that this plan is not only the most partisan plan I’ve ever seen, it is a plan that attempts to smash the communities of interest in a way that we’ve not seen in Virginia,” Neman said.
One of the communities affected by the new boundaries is Liberty University, as Campbell County is no longer part of the 23rd District.
“For the people that live right over the hill in Campbell County — or the part of Liberty University that’s in Campbell County — when they start looking for their state senator, they will need to look to the North Carolina border.
The Republican Party offered a counter-plan, called the Watkins-Vogel Plan, which had a deviation of .48 percent.
“In the Watkins-Vogel plan, the districts are much more compact. If you look at cities, they tend to have, as much as possible, one to two representatives,” Newman said. “None of them are non-contiguous — that is, none of them are not connected by at least a road that goes over water. (They districts) are reasonably compact, meaning those districts do not violate Section V of the Federal Code, which relates to minority voting.”
Although Newman’s district has changed drastically, he still maintains a positive attitude towards the future.
“Being a representative in the Senate of Virginia is a, I think, one of the highest honors that can be given to an individual,” Newman said. “I’m very upbeat and positive. I’m upbeat about Ralph. I’m upbeat about the district. I’m upbeat about the prospect of meeting new people in Craig County, where I don’t have a lot of friends now. I’m looking forward to developing whole new friendships in the Botetourt area. It’s a great a opportunity.”