RICHMOND — Virginia's House and Senate on Thursday sent two competing congressional redistricting maps to a bipartisan conference committee, where members will hammer out differences such as whether to create the state’s second majority black district.
The Democrat-led Senate approved on a party-line 22-15 vote a map giving blacks significant voting influence in two instead of one of Virginia’s 11 congressional districts - something they say is only fair since blacks make up 20 percent of the population.
“That is not fair representation and it dilutes African-American voting influence in our state,” said Sen. Mamie E. Locke, Hampton Democrat and patron of the Senate bill. “Rather than packing minority voters into one district and diluting their voting strength in others, why not adopt this plan, which is the fair and right thing to do?”
In response, Republicans cited congressional support for their map. According to reports, Virginia’s congressional delegation has weighed in on the incumbent-protecting plan and members have given it their approval. The plan isn’t perfect, but it’s good, said Sen. Jill Holtzman Vogel, Upperville Republican.
Democrats want to redraw the 4th District held by Rep. Randy J. Forbes so that it contains a 51 percent black majority. Rep. Robert C. “Bobby” Scott, the only black member of the congressional delegation, would see the black population in his bordering 3rd District drop from 56 percent to 42 percent, as the boundary lines would shift eastward and shrink inward to encompass the cities of Hampton Roads, Newport News, Norfolk, Portsmouth and parts of Virginia Beach and Chesapeake.
While Mr. Forbes, a Republican, could face a tough re-election under the map, Mr. Scott has said he could be elected again in a district with the new boundaries. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, a Republican, would see his 7th District plan shift to the south, encircling Richmond. Neither plan significantly changes the 8th and 11th districts in Northern Virginia, represented by Rep. James P. Moran and Rep. Gerald E. Connolly, both Democrats.
The Republican map contains minor changes, mostly to accommodate a population that is shrinking in southern and western regions and growing in the counties of Prince William and Loudoun in Northern Virginia. It stretches out the 5th District represented by Rep. Robert Hurt, expanding it from the North Carolina border up to Fauquier County.
Democrats face an uphill battle if they’re to achieve a second district with strong minority influence. When the Senate failed in April to achieve any GOP votes for a state-seat redistricting plan, Republican Gov. Bob McDonnell vetoed the plan and sent it back.
Sen. Mary Margaret Whipple, Arlington Democrat, urged her colleagues to support the Democratic plan because “this is a simple issue.”
“At the very least, it seems to me the simple answer of having 20 percent African-American population is to have at least two of these districts available to African-American citizens to choose the candidate of their choice,” she said.
Lawmakers expect to reconvene next month to approve a final map with districts that must each contain either 727,355 or 727,356 residents.
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