- Associated Press - Wednesday, March 30, 2011

RICHMOND (AP) — Virginia lawmakers began a partisan, legislative version of “Survivor” on Tuesday with redistricting plans that leave four Republican senators fighting for two seats and leave three House Democrats homeless.

Just six days before the start of the General Assembly’s constitutionally mandated decennial special session to redraw legislative and congressional boundaries, the House’s majority Republicans and the Senate’s Democratic majority finally filed their plans Tuesday.

Neither plan became public until late afternoon or evening, just two days ahead of the first of eight public hearings set from Thursday until lawmakers return to Richmond on Monday.

Minorities in both chambers decried partisan dirty tricks in majority plans that pick off a few lawmakers but overwhelmingly preserve the seats of incumbents.

The Senate majority plan, sponsored by Democrat Janet Howell of Fairfax, shoehorns Virginia Beach Republicans Frank Wagner and Jeff McWaters into the same Senate seat.

Farther west, Howell’s plan puts Republican Sen. Ralph Smith of Roanoke in the same district with Sen. Steve Newman, R-Lynchburg.

Tommy Norment of James City County, leader of the Senate’s GOP minority, thundered against Howell’s bill as “an outrageously partisan redistricting plan that will go down as one of the most notorious examples of gerrymandering in history.”

Ten years ago, when Norment ruled the Senate’s GOP majority, the Republican plan took the seat of then-Sen. Madison Marye, D-Montgomery, and moved it more than 200 miles away into the exurbs of Washington, D.C.

In the House, Republicans who rule that chamber packed up the districts of three downstate Democrats and moved them into the fast-growing suburbs of northern Virginia.

Del. Paula Miller of Norfolk saw her 87th House District moved to Prince William and Loudoun Counties. The districts of Democrats Lynwood Lewis and Johnny Joannou and Republican Chris Stolle would cover parts of what was her district.

Del. Clarence E. “Bud” Phillips of Dickenson County would find himself sharing a redrawn 4th House District with fellow Democrat Joseph P. Johnson of Washington County in far southwestern Virginia. Phillips’ old district, the 2nd, would move to Prince William and Stafford counties on the other end of the state.

And House Minority Leader Ward L. Armstrong would have to move from the Martinsville and Henry County area near the North Carolina state line to the border with Maryland to remain in his 10th District. The feisty Democrat is in the 16th District with Republican Donald Merricks under the GOP House plan.

“Whether the Democrats do it to the Republicans or the Republicans do it to the Democrats, it’s still bad policy,” Armstrong said in a telephone interview.

Virginia grew from slightly more than 7 million people in 2000 to more than 8 million in the 2010 Census. Because most of the growth was just outside the Washington Beltway, it was inevitable that fast-growing areas such as Prince William and Loudoun would gain seats at the expense of rural areas that grew little or lost population.

Lawmakers are under pressure to enact the new lines quickly to allow for August primaries and November general elections for all 100 House of Delegates seats and all 40 Senate seats.

New maps for Virginia’s 11 congressional districts were not filed Tuesday. U.S. House races aren’t until the fall of 2012, giving lawmakers more time to finish congressional redistricting.



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