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Democrats dominate Virginia map lawsuit

Want judges to draw redistricting lines

- The Washington Times - Monday, November 28, 2011

Five of the six plaintiffs in a lawsuit seeking to throw control of Virginia's congressional redistricting process to the courts have either contributed to or worked for Democrats in the past decade, despite claims that the legal action is not linked to the party.

Plaintiffs' attorney J. Gerald Hebert insisted that the lawsuit, which calls for a three-judge panel to draw the state's 11 congressional districts based on 2010 U.S. census data, was not filed on behalf of Democrats, even though they likely would benefit from judicial mapmaking.

After Republicans picked up two Senate seats in this month's general election and declared an effective majority, House Speaker William J. Howell, Stafford Republican, said that redrawing the new lines would wait until next year, when the new Senate with a GOP advantage is sworn in.

Democrats currently have a 22-18 edge in the upper chamber of the General Assembly, which technically remains in a special redistricting session, albeit in recess.

Mr. Hebert, who has worked for state and national Democrats, said partisan politics played no part for him in filing the lawsuit Nov. 16.

"I didn't know about their contributions or their voting record, frankly," Mr. Hebert said of the plaintiffs. "It would not surprise me. ... The issue for me was, did they live in an overpopulated district, and, therefore, was their voting strength diminished by that malapportionment?"

Among the plaintiffs:

• Amy LaMarca, former chairman of the Fredericksburg Democratic Committee, accepted $8,123 in salary from the Carlos Del Toro for Delegate Committee in 2007, according to the Virginia Public Access Project, a nonpartisan tracker of money in politics. Mr. Del Toro lost to Delegate Mark L. Cole, Fredericksburg Republican. This year, Ms. LaMarca gave $100 to Jaime Areizaga-Soto, who lost an August Democratic primary in Northern Virginia to Barbara Favola.

• Jon-Christopher Bolling of Richmond was paid $6,259 in telephone and mileage reimbursement by the Democratic Party of Virginia from Aug. 14 to Nov. 17, 2009. Also that year, he was paid $5,941 from Terry McAuliffe's gubernatorial campaign between April 1 and June 15, and he earned $1,482 from the James Towey for Delegate committee in July and August.

Mr. McAuliffe lost a three-way primary for governor that also included Brian J. Moran, now chairman of the Democratic Party of Virginia, and state Sen. R. Creigh Deeds, Bath Democrat, who lost to Gov. Bob McDonnell in the general election. Mr. Towey lost to former Delegate William R. Janis, Henrico Republican, in his race.

• Nancy McPherson of Chesapeake made a $600 in-kind donation to the Democratic Party of Virginia on June 11, 2007, and two $100 donations to the Michael Meyer for Delegate Committee on June 30, 2007. Mr. Meyer lost to Delegate John A. Cosgrove, Chesapeake Republican.

• Christopher J. Ambrose of Lorton was paid $110 on Feb. 28, 2006, as a campaign worker for Sen. Mark Herring, Loudoun Democrat. Mr. Ambrose also has donated $7,818 to Democratic candidates and causes in the state since 2004, including $6,674 to Greg Werkheiser, who lost an expensive race to Delegate David B. Albo, Fairfax Republican, in 2009.

• Rolland D. Winter of Leesburg has donated $2,595 to Democrats since 1997.

Reached by phone, Mr. Winter said he did not want to discuss the case. Messages left for the other plaintiffs were not returned.

The lawsuit, filed nearly two weeks ago, argues that without new districts the plaintiffs will be denied their constitutional rights. It says that populations in several of the districts vary wildly, undermining the notion of "one man, one vote." It also points out that the state constitution demands that the legislature reapportion the congressional districts in 2011. But the Republican-led House and Democrat-led Senate are still at loggerheads over competing plans.

"There is a constitutional provision that it be done this year," said Rep. Robert C. "Bobby" Scott, Virginia Democrat. "We'll just have to see what happens."

Mr. Scott said he prefers a plan proposed by the Senate that decreases the black voting-age population in his 3rd Congressional District, which meanders from Richmond to Hampton Roads, and increases it in Rep. Randy Forbes' southeastern 4th District, creating two minority-influence districts in the state.

A court-drawn map would be a victory for Democrats, said longtime Virginia political analyst Bob Holsworth, because, come January, they will no longer hold the leverage of a Senate majority.

"Under a neutral map, you'd probably create another competitive seat," he said. "At the moment, other than a challenge that they win, they're going to be in a tough situation. The Democrats are in somewhat worse shape ... if this thing is decided politically and not [in] a court."

Litigation over the partisan process is nothing new in the commonwealth, which is one of a handful of mostly Southern states that must preclear its redistricting plans with the U.S. Department of Justice under the Voting Rights Act of 1965 to ensure that the minority vote is not diluted.

In 1997, a three-judge panel ruled that Mr. Scott's 3rd District violated the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and was racially gerrymandered. The 1998 General Assembly redrew the district, reducing the minority voting-age population in the 3rd District from 61.60 percent to 50.46 percent.

The Republican Party of Virginia and members of the House of Delegates challenged in court the 1991 redistricting plan for the House, in which 14 GOP incumbents were drawn into the same district as another Republican incumbent, while just two Democrats were. A three-judge panel, however, refused to enjoin the 1991 elections.

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