- The Washington Times - Friday, April 13, 2001

RICHMOND Virginia lawmakers yesterday adopted the plans that redraw the state assembly's legislative districts, but not before Democrats said the maps will inevitably be challenged in court.
On a 60-38 vote, the House passed a plan that lumps 13 Democratic incumbents including the party's floor leader and its caucus chairman into six districts and puts two others in districts now represented by Republicans.
The Senate approved its proposal, which pairs two Democratic incumbents in one district and pits another against a GOP senator in a strongly Republican district, 23-17.
The two Republican-controlled houses now exchange plans and, operating under an agreement that neither map will change, legislators will vote on them when they return to Richmond next week.
But the Democratic leadership said the plans pack minorities into districts and dilute their voting strength, rendering the proposals illegal according to the Voting Rights Act of 1965. They also said the process was too short and didn't allow enough participation, another potential violation of the voting rights act.
Republicans, though, said every district that currently has a majority of black residents is maintained. One black Democrat applauded Republicans for a fair plan and chastised his fellow party members for not supporting it.
"I ask you all to look at every black district the way it is now, percentage-wise, and look at what has been proposed by my friend Chris Jones, and tell me who had packed the districts," said Delegate Lionell Spruill Sr., Chesapeake Democrat. He said Mr. Jones, the Suffolk Republican delegate who authored the GOP House plan, did the best he could given the lines drawn by Democrats 10 years ago.
"If most of the members of our caucus told the truth, they had input if not personally, then through me," Mr. Spruill said.
The 2000 census numbers showed that the suburban areas of Northern Virginia grew, while Southwestern Virginia and Norfolk didn't grow as quickly or even lost population. The new districts reflect those shifts.
In addition to putting several Democratic incumbents in the same district, Republicans created six House districts and two Senate districts without an incumbent. The GOP expects to win most of those seats and increase its numbers in the assembly.
This year's redistricting debate showed a shift in positions from decades past, with Republicans now arguing for minority-controlled districts and Democrats charging that dilutes minority representation in other districts.
Democrats protested the creation of a House district in the inner suburbs outside Washington, in which white residents are a minority and in which Hispanic residents are a strong force. Creating that district meant taking a precinct away from an Alexandria Democratic delegate's district, and splitting Alexandria up further.
Delegate Marian Van Landingham, Alexandria Democrat, said she had received several faxes from people in the precinct who opposed the move.
"It's not just a matter of math, as one delegate would have us believe it's a matter of divide and control," she read from one resident's note.
Democrats in both the House and Senate read lengthy speeches detailing their objections to the proposals, laying the groundwork for an eventual court challenge in particular, minority packing.
Democrats charge that Republicans didn't just pack the districts with minorities, they had to gerrymander to do so.
But Republicans seem confident of their plans' legality.
"Take it to court and let's see," Delegate John S. "Jack" Reid, Henrico Republican, kept repeating to those around him during Petersburg Delegate Jay W. DeBoer's speech in the House.
In the House, eight Democrats voted with all but one of the chamber's Republicans. Only one Democrat in the Senate supported the 22 Senate Republicans.
Each chamber is expected to approve the other house's plan in a final vote Wednesday, then send the bill to Gov. James S. Gilmore III and give him seven days to sign or amend the legislation.
The maps then go to the Justice Department, which must review them to determine if they have an adverse effect on minorities under the Voting Rights Act but courts have varying interpretations of what that means. Democrats are expected to ask the courts to also review these plans.
The sole Republican to vote against either plan was Delegate Anne G. "Panny" Rhodes, Richmond Republican, who often clashes with Republican party positions in the House. Her district was changed substantially.
She scolded fellow Republicans for using residents as "pawns" in a political chess game and said they shouldn't have followed the lead of Democrats, who the last time around consolidated many Republican incumbents into single districts.
"Ten years ago is then, this is now, and two wrongs don't mean a right," Mrs. Rhodes said.

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