- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 23, 2014

An ethics commission created by Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe is calling on the General Assembly to pass a constitutional amendment that would create an independent panel to draw congressional and statehouse district lines, a measure that has consistently died at the hands of the state legislature.

Members of the commission recommended that lawmakers adopt legislation establishing “nonpartisan criteria” to guide congressional and state legislative redistricting decisions during the decennial process.

Mr. McAuliffe has supported such an effort on redistricting, though it’s unlikely to get through a Republican-controlled legislature.

“Governor McAuliffe believes getting partisan politics out of the redistricting process is an essential element of making Virginia government more transparent and accountable,” said spokesman Brian Coy.

Another avenue offered by the panel would be an amendment to the state constitution creating an independent redistricting commission, which would have to be approved twice by the assembly before being sent to voters.

That panel would consist of five members, one each chosen by the speaker and the minority leader of the House of Delegates and one each chosen by the majority and minority leader of the state Senate. The four members would then select the fifth member.

SEE ALSO: Virginia’s McAuliffe declines to expand Medicaid program key to Obamacare

The commission is “not naive enough to think that whatever we recommend is going to be enthusiastically received by members of the General Assembly,” said former Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling, who co-chairs the 10-member panel along with former U.S. Rep. Rick Boucher. “But it is an issue that we need to keep front and center.”

Indeed, House Speaker William J. Howell, Stafford Republican, appears cool to such an idea.

“Redistricting was established by the framers as a part of the political process and historically has remained that way,” said Matt Moran, a spokesman for Mr. Howell. “The speaker respects this process and has serious reservations about changes.”

The last round of redistricting came after the 2010 U.S. Census, and Mr. Moran pointed out that House Republicans hold 14 seats in districts President Obama won in 2012 and 17 that Democratic Sen. Tim Kaine won that year.

Though reapportioning legislative districts to reflect population changes is typically done only once every 10 years, lawmakers in Virginia will have to tackle the issue much earlier this time around.

A federal court in October declared the state’s congressional district map unconstitutional, saying it packed too many minorities into Rep. Bobby Scott’s 3rd congressional district, which meanders from parts of Richmond down to Hampton Roads.

The court left the map intact for this year’s midterms, but told lawmakers to draw a new one by April.

Another recommendation from the panel said if Mr. McAuliffe and the General Assembly haven’t agreed on a process for an interim fix to the map 10 business days after the 2015 assembly convenes, the governor should appoint a redistricting commission of his own that would recommend congressional lines.

Mr. McAuliffe established the panel, formally known as the Commission on Integrity and Public Confidence in State Government, in September, just weeks after his predecessor, former Gov. Bob McDonnell, was convicted of trading access to the governor’s office for more than $150,000 in gifts and loans from a wealthy businessman given to Mr. McDonnell and members of his family.

Mr. McDonnell is scheduled to be sentenced on Jan. 6.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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