- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 12, 2001

RICHMOND Virginia legislators yesterday advanced their plans to redraw legislative districts, delivering several new seats and numerous redrawn district lines in Northern Virginia.

On a 60-37 vote, the House approved the bill that redraws the 100 House districts.

The Senate was bogged down over a dispute among Republicans on how to divvy up some precincts in the middle of the state, but later approved the plan redrawing the 40 Senate districts, 21-13.

Both chambers will take a final vote today, then return next week to vote on each other's bills and send them on to the governor for his signature.

Northern Virginia gained all or part of two House seats and two Senate seats. The redrawn lines pair two incumbent Senate Democrats in a single district and also create a House district in the region in which minorities outnumber white residents.

Members of both parties concede it's a process that means political life or death for the 140 incumbents in the House and Senate, but to many residents means little other than a different name on the ballot.

The chambers use the 2000 Census numbers to recalculate the state's districts so areas like Southside and southwest Virginia, which lost population or didn't grow as fast as other areas, also lost seats. Conversely, fast-growing areas like Northern Virginia gained seats. Seats are also redistributed within regions by redrawing district lines.

In Northern Virginia, that meant gains for the Republican-leaning outer suburbs.

"Ultimately, it's driven by the math," said Delegate John H. "Jack" Rust Jr., Fairfax Republican and the man who was instrumental in redrawing Northern Virginia's House lines.

If the old adage that watching the legislative process is like watching sausage be made holds true, then redistricting is like watching sausage be digested a fascinating, though nasty, process. And, in this case, a thoroughly partisan one. This year's session is the first time in state history that Republicans have controlled the process, and it was bruising at times.

"That's why I look like I've been run over by a truck and I haven't been home to see my family in about a month," said Delegate S. Chris Jones, Suffolk Republican and the point man for the House redistricting plans.

In the House, Republicans combined 15 incumbents together, including several members of the House leadership. In Southside Virginia, three Democrats are all now in the same district. In Roanoke, House Minority Leader C. Richard Cranwell is now in the same district as Clifton A. "Chip" Woodrum.

Republicans were quite candid that they wanted to stick the two senior Democrats with 52 years' service in the House between them in the same district, but Mr. Woodrum said it hurts the Roanoke region by targeting senior members.

In the Senate, the Republican plan combines four Democrats into two districts, leaving two districts without incumbents.

Republicans preserved the 17 majority-minority districts between both houses, but Democrats said that dilutes minority strength in other districts.

Republicans expect to pick up the majority of the newly drawn districts without incumbents there are two in the Senate and six in the House. The chambers' balances now are 52 Republicans and one Republican-leaning independent to 47 Democrats in the House, and 22 Republicans to 18 Democrats in the Senate.

A lot of yesterday's five-hour debate in the House was Democrats' attempts to lay the groundwork for future lawsuits over the Republicans' plan.

Democrats in particular wanted to know why this year's plans were drawn so that districts only deviated 2 percent from the ideal population of about 70,000, and they chastised Republicans for removing "political fairness" a criteria for the lines in 1991 from the list of criteria this year.

Down the hall in the Senate, Sen. Leslie L. Byrne, Fairfax Democrat, argued that Republicans had targeted women's districts because the plan sliced up the districts of five of the eight women in the chamber all Democrats.

But Republicans said Democrats similarly targeted incumbents and women in 1991, and the Republican plan only combined the districts of Mrs. Byrne and Sen. Mary Margaret Whipple, Arlington Democrat the rest of the women affected only had their district lines shifted.

The redistricting process happens every 10 years, after the new census numbers are released. Virginia is one of a few states that has legislative races this year, so it has to redraw its lines before the election.

After the governor signs the plans, they must then go to the federal Justice Department for review, since the state is still covered by federal mandates from the Voting Rights Act.

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