Gov. Bob McDonnell on Friday vetoed the General Assembly redistricting maps, rebooting the political redraw and harshly critiquing the plan written by Senate Democrats.
McDonnell, a Republican and former attorney general, said that the new districts passed by the Senate are not compact enough and potentially unconstitutional.
"I am concerned that the Senate plan is the kind of partisan gerrymandering that Virginians have asked that we leave in the past," McDonnell said in a letter that also encouraged the House to "strengthen its plan."
McDonnell complimented House Republicans for a "bipartisan approach," noting that the plan passed on an 86–8 vote with significant Democratic support.
McDonnell's veto throws the state House and Senate maps back to the legislature after weeks of work and sharpens the partisan edge in Richmond. Lawmakers passed the proposal early this week, moving the bill to McDonnell's desk Tuesday.
It's unclear what McDonnell's effort will accomplish because it does nothing to change the partisan divisions in the legislature, especially Democrats' thin majority in the Senate that stands at 22 to 18.
After the McDonnell veto became official, House leadership called lawmakers back to Richmond on Monday to immediately resume work on the state districts.
From the start, the once-a-decade redistricting has been a hyper-partisan affair as lawmakers work to redesign the state's political boundaries to account for population shifts found during the 2010 census.
On Friday, good government advocates from the non-partisan Virginia Redistricting Commission urged both chambers to improve the maps.
"Though the governor puts most of his emphasis on the Senate plan, the House plan is also flawed," said C. Douglas Smith, a faith leader who chairs the coalition. "This opportunity shouldn't be used as a political end run to create delays or gain partisan advantage."
Senate Republicans applauded the veto. Senate Minority Leader Thomas K. "Tommy" Norment, R-James City, has questioned whether the plan could pass constitutional muster.
"Senate Republicans are prepared to work with Senate Democrats on a reasonable plan," he said.
Meanwhile, Senate Majority Leader Richard "Dick" Saslaw, D-Fairfax, said Friday that McDonnell would only be happy with a plan where Democrats surrendered to Republican wishes. Saslaw said that Senate Democrats would pass another plan, but if McDonnell vetoes the second attempt they would stop entirely. If Democrats refuse to pass a plan, the state political maps would be redrawn by the courts.
Saslaw also noted that Democrats have used the input of Republican lawmakers, including honoring Norment's request to maintain connections to Williamsburg. Norment's new district initially didn't have any part of the city.
The final plan gives him about one-fifth of the traditionally Democratic voting bloc that was moved into the district of Sen. John Miller, D-Newport News.
But the Norment concession illuminates the inherent perils of redistricting. This week, Williamsburg Mayor Clyde Haulman wrote McDonnell asking for a veto because the Senate map split the city. Haulman said that having a single precinct with two senatorial candidates would add $16,000 to election costs.
"The Senate's proposed redistricting plan entirely discounts Williamsburg's corporate identity by splitting the city for the sake of political expedience, creating arbitrary and in this case nonsensical political boundaries through the geographic heart of the City of Williamsburg," Haulman wrote.
What's next in Va. redistricting?
Gov. Bob McDonnell's veto wipes the slate clean on redistricting and forces House Republicans and Senate Democrats to start fresh and come up with new political boundaries. Lawmakers return to Richmond on Monday afternoon.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun