The Virginia Senate narrowly passed a measure Monday night that draws new lines for the state's legislative districts, dramatically altering districts in the Roanoke and New River Valley areas.
Montgomery County would shift from the 21st District to the 20th. The 21st District is currently represented by Sen. John Edwards, a Democrat. The 20th is represented by Sen. Bill Stanley, a Republican. Edwards' changed district lines would cost him a significant portion of democratic voters.
Edwards' new district would add Pulaski, Craig, Bland and Wythe counties.
Additionally, the new districts merge two districts, both of which have been held by incumbent senators Creigh Deeds, a democrat, and Emmett Hanger, a republican.
The sudden passage of the legislation in the Senate, which is tied 20-20, came as a surprise to many, including republican Governor Bob McDonnell.
“The governor was very surprised to learn that a redistricting bill would be voted on by the Senate. He has not seen this legislation,” said Tucker Martin, communications director for the governor.
According to Martin, if the legislation makes it to the governor's desk McDonnell will “review it in great detail.”
In order to make it to the governor, the legislation still has to pass the republican-controlled House of Delegates.
The vote on the redistricting bill was taken Monday when democratic Sen. Henry Marsh was in Washington, D.C., for the inauguration ceremony, missing the vote. Marsh, a representative from Richmond, is a civil rights lawyer and was the first black mayor of Richmond. The changes affect his district.
The vote fell along party lines, passing 20-19. Had Marsh been present and the vote been tied, Republican Lieutenant Governor Bill Bolling would be responsible for breaking the tie.
However, according to Bolling's spokeswoman Ibbie Hedrick, the lieutenant governor does not support the actions of Republican legislators, nor the redistricting plan.
“(Bolling) fears that this action could set a dangerous precedent for future redistricting actions, and he is concerned that it could create a hyper-partisan atmosphere that could make it very difficult for us to address other important priorities,” Hedrick said.
Transportation and education have been priorities of the executive branch this legislative session, and it is possible this move could create difficulty in achieving compromise for the governor's strongly-backed proposals.
The actions were condemned by Virginia's democratic senators Mark Warner and Tim Kaine. In a joint statement, the senators claimed Virginia's Senate republicans “took advantage of the absence of (Marsh) to push through a hyper-partisan change to Virginia's...legislative district map.”
“This is not the way we should be conducting the people’s business in Virginia,” said the statement, “We urge legislative leaders and other elected officials to do the right thing, to correct this disappointing and disruptive partisan action.”
If the bill is ultimately passed, the new lines will go into effect for the 2015 state elections.
Redistricting happens in Virginia every 10 years after the census, with minor changes allowed in between. The last time the lines were drastically redrawn was just last year.
Democrats are calling the plan an unconstitutional change, and it is possible, if the bill passes, that litigation could follow.
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