- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 27, 2001

Virginia Republicans who hoped to carve out a congressional district for Oliver L. North suffered a setback yesterday with redistricting bills that failed to extend a congressional district to include his county.
Two Republican redistricting bills were filed with the Virginia Assembly yesterday but neither extended the 9th Congressional District to include Mr. North's home in Clarke County, at the northeast end of the state, so he could run against Rep. Rick Boucher, a nine-term Democrat.
"This redistricting is not about Ollie North, but about creating good districts for Republican incumbents to hold," said Jeannemarie A. Devolites, who filed one of the bills and who is the point person for the congressional redistricting bill in the House of Delegates.
Meanwhile yesterday, Virginia Democrats filed a lawsuit against the state's top Republicans in an effort to block the GOP's legislative-redistricting plan for the House of Delegates and state Senate.
In papers filed yesterday in Circuit Court in Salem, Va., four Democratic state senators and 16 delegates claim Gov. James S. Gilmore III and the General Assembly's Republican majority took part in racial, sex and partisan gerrymandering when they redrew the district lines in April.
The Democrats claim the Republican plan intentionally lumps high-profile Democratic leaders into key districts — a move they say would hurt re-election chances of several incumbent legislators and cut the number of Democrats in both chambers.
"The Republican legislative-redistricting plan is gerrymandering at its worst," said Delegate R. Creigh Deeds, Bath Democrat and chairman of the House Democratic Caucus.
The Democrats hope to prevent it from taking effect before November, when all 100 House seats are up for election.
Republicans who were named as defendants in the lawsuit said yesterday they were not too worried about the lawsuit.
"These efforts to delay the process aren't going to work," said Lila White, the governor's spokeswoman. She said Mr. Gilmore is confident that the plans will prevail.
House Speaker S. Vance Wilkins Jr., an Amherst Republican and defendant in the case, agreed. "The Justice Department approved it, so that would mean they found it to be all right. Everything we did was on the advice of counsel."
The Justice Department — which must review the plans to determine if they have an adverse effect on minorities under the federal Voting Rights Act — approved the House plan two weeks ago, two months after the House and Senate passed both proposed plans. It is still reviewing the Senate plan.
The Senate plan pairs two Democratic incumbents in one district and pits another against a GOP senator in a strongly Republican district.
In court papers, the Democratic leadership also argues the plans pack minorities into districts and dilute their voting strength, rendering the proposals illegal according to the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
"It's clear that the lines were drawn to include or exclude groups of people on the basis of their skin color," said Sen. Mary Margaret Whipple, Arlington Democrat. "That is illegal in our view and we cannot tolerate that in Virginia. These plans put us at a disadvantage and we want them redesigned."
Democrats say the plans discriminate against female legislators, including Mrs. Whipple and Leslie Byrne, Fairfax Democrat, both of whom would be put in Senate District 31 under the proposed Senate plan by forcing them to run against each other.
"Republicans have stepped over the line," said House Minority Leader C. Richard Cranwell of Roanoke, one of the Democratic leaders put in the same district with another Democratic incumbent. "We will do everything possible to prevent this breach of public trust."
None of the Republicans named in the lawsuit — including Mr. Gilmore, Mr. Wilkins, Lt. Gov. John H. Hager and acting Attorney General Randy Beales — has been served with court papers, and no court date has been set.
The surprising setback for Mr. North yesterday came after he had appeared to move closer to becoming the Republican candidate for the 9th District next year. On Sunday, Republican officials there voted 23-3 to recommend that it be redrawn to include Clarke County.
"Absolutely, North is a star, but it's been eight years since he last ran for office," Mrs. Devolites said. "Ollie would make an outstanding candidate, he's a hard worker and would give Boucher a run. But we have other candidates who have lived and worked in Southwestern Virginia who also could make a strong run."
Asked how her close friend, Rep. Thomas M. Davis III, chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, feels about her bill excluding Mr. North from a redrawn 9th Congressional District, she said, "As chairman, he has an obligation to elect Republicans."
Mr. Davis told The Washington Times on June 12 that he "would encourage Ollie and would support him if he chose to run in the 9th District," but that "it is up to the Virginia state legislature to determine the new boundaries of the congressional districts."
Now a radio talk-show host, Mr. North is the retired Marine Corps colonel who became a hero to many Americans during the Iran-Contra congressional hearings in the late 1980s.
Supporters who thought he would best be able to defeat Mr. Boucher were gathering support to extend the 9th District.
Furthermore, some North supporters among Republican lawmakers said privately that the move yesterday was masterminded by Republicans in the liberal, anti-North faction, led by Sen. John W. Warner.
That faction publicly opposed Mr. North in 1994 and worked hard to make sure he lost his campaign to unseat Sen. Charles S. Robb, the Democratic incumbent, because he was too conservative and "divisive."
Among those who see a coalescing of the same liberal cabal against Mr. North is Delegate Richard H. Black, a Republican and North supporter.
"But there are people in our party who are nervous about charismatic conservative Republicans taking office," said Mr. Black. "They are able to ignite the base of the party and take the party in the direction the establishment doesn't want to go."
"The party is forever afflicted by the notion that if we act like Democrats, conservatives will still vote for us," Mr. Black said. "It doesn't work."
Some who want Mr. North to run said during the vote that he would help President Bush implement his supply-side energy strategy — and thereby help Virginia's economy — by working with the administration to free up for development the gas, oil and coal reserves in the area of the state he would represent.
"Boucher has done nothing to develop the coal we have," said Richard Wolfe, a Washington County Republican activist who supports Mr. North.

Copyright © 2019 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide