State lawmakers approved Monday redistricting maps for the 140 General Assembly seats, sending the plans on to Gov. Bob McDonnell for scrutiny.
House Republicans and Senate Democrats held the majority power in the two chambers, leaving them in the driver's seat when it came time to redraw the state's political boundaries to account for population shifts found in the 2010 census.
Legislators in both chambers largely ignored the advice of the independent bi-partisan redistricting commission that McDonnell appointed earlier this year, opting instead to craft strategic maps for partisan advantage.
House maps were approved late last week on a hefty margin with many Democrats backing the maps drawn up by Del. S. Chris Jones, R-Suffolk. The vote was tighter in the Senate where Democrats muscled through their maps on a straight party line vote of 22 to 18.
On Monday the pair of maps passed the Senate 22 to 17 and the same proposal passed the House 85 to 9. Now the remixed state maps move to McDonnell's desk.
The Republican has a week to amend the maps, substitute his own plan or veto the maps outright and force lawmakers to start the process over. McDonnell has said very little about his plans, and the maps heading to the governor come with a considerable dose of controversy.
House Democrats, including Minority Leader Ward Armstrong, D-Henry, began laying the groundwork for a potential legal challenge to the House GOP's maps last week. Meanwhile, Senate Minority Leader Thomas K. "Tommy" Norment, R-James City, warned that he doubts that Senate Democrats maps will stand up as constitutional.
Norment said Monday the effort to fix the final maps was akin to "putting lipstick on a pig."
Norment's district has undergone significant changes, it now stretches from Suffolk to the Northern Neck and includes a slice of Williamsburg. On the other side of the aisle, Del. Robin Abbott, D-Newport News, has been moved out of her district leaving her considering a run against Del. Glenn Oder, R-Newport News.
The U.S. Department of Justice must give Virginia's maps the Voting Rights Act green light because of the state's checkered racial history. Federal lawyers must sign off on the maps before they can be used in the looming November elections, when all 140 lawmakers are up for re-election.
Recent efforts to redraw districts have faced significant legal opposition, with lawsuits filed frequently to question the logic behind the maps. Both Republicans and Democrats have been discussing their legal options throughout the redistricting session in Richmond.
The General Assembly is expected to begin voting on the congressional maps on Tuesday morning. The House is expected to go into session at 10 a.m. at the same time that the Senate Privileges and Elections Committee is set to meet.
On Monday morning, House lawmakers began to debate the new boundaries for the state's 11-member congressional delegation, which faces a looser timeframe because federal lawmakers aren't up for re-election until 2012. The House Privileges and Elections Committee on Monday passed maps offered by Del. Bill Janis, R-Henrico, by 17 to 2.
The Senate is expected to take up the congressional maps after the plans are passed by the House so that the plans can be combined into the very same proposal.
Monday evening, Sen. Mamie Locke, D-Hampton, submitted a Senate proposal, which alters Virginia's federal map to create a second so-called "opportunity district" for minority voters. The state's current delegation only has one black member, U.S. Rep. Robert C. "Bobby" Scott, D-Newport News. But Scott and black leaders have pointed out that the state has almost 20 percent black residents, leaving the voting bloc underrepresented.
Under Locke's proposal, Scott's district would shed a chunk of minority population which would be added into the 4th Congressional district, which is currently represented by U.S. Rep. Randy Forbes, R-Chesapeake. Under Locke's proposal, Forbes' district would actually become a minority majority district.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun