RICMOND ——House of Delegates lawmakers passed the Republican plan for redistricting late Wednesday over the objections from Democrats including Del. Robin Abbott and House Minority Leader Ward Armstrong.
The GOP plan, put forward by Del. S. Chris Jones, R-Suffolk, was voted on near midnight Wednesday after lawmakers had already handled a full day of vetoes and amendments offered by Gov. Bob McDonnell - and it passed on an 86 to 8 margin.
Newport News Democrat, remains angry that her district was moved north picking up more of James City and her home was moved into the district of Del. Glenn Oder, R-Newport News.
Meanwhile, Armstrong has complained openly about the process where his rural district was carved up and he was moved out of his district making his re-election chances slimmer than usual. Norfolk Democrat Del. Paula Miller also voted against the plan, her district was consolidated and moved north to deal with heavy population growth in the Washington suburbs.
It appears that House legislators will head home for the weekend and prepare to return on Monday to resume redistricting debate.
Now the focus shifts to Senate Democrats, who are scheduled to have a 12:30 p.m. meeting of the Senate Privileges and Elections Committee to talk about Senate plans put forward by panel chairwoman Sen. Janet Howell. Howell's maps have gone through a couple of changes, and have faced a lot of tough criticism especially and predictably from Republican lawmakers.
But Howell and the Democrats have the votes to push their plans through. It's unclear what the path forward is for Senate Democrats. Republican Sen. John Watkins and Senate GOP, including Senate Minority Leader Thomas K. "Tommy" Norment have proposed their own maps for the Senate.
Under Howell's plan, Norment's district would stretch from Suffolk, gobble up conservative Peninsula enclaves like Poquoson, Yorktown and Fox Hill and move into Gloucester and the Northern Neck. But Howell adjusted Norment's maps down from the Maryland border after the James City Republicans publicly suggested he was considering moving into the district held by Sen. John Miller, D-Newport News, which now includes Williamsburg.
The Senate Republicans don't have the votes to push their plans - and they didn't even introduce them into committee - but they could try to introduce the GOP plan on the floor of the Senate to force a public debate about the merits and try to peel off some of the Democrats 22 to 18 majority.
For now the big meeting today is the 12:30 gathering of the Senate elections panel which ought to give strong indications of where the redistricting roadmap is headed this week.
It's unclear at this point but the General Assembly could take up the state's 11-district Congressional map next week when they return to Richmond. But there's decidedly less pressure on the federal maps because Washington-based lawmakers won't face re-election until 2012 while all 140 General Assembly lawmakers are on the ballot this fall.
Meanwhile, the Virginia Redistricting Coalition continues to slam the maps put forward by House Republicans and those laid out by Senate Democrats, hoping that legislators will listen to Gov. Bob McDonnell's independent bipartisan coalition and also consider the maps put forward by the college teams who took part in a redistricting competition.
McDonnell still has a voice in the process - and can make amendments and changes - so the ideas put forward by his handpicked panel could still be a factor. The college student maps have been presented in the House - where they faced criticism for moving incumbents out of their districts - including minorities which could raise the ire of the federal Department of Justice and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
It's not too late," said John Stone, a board member of The Future of Hampton Roads Inc., a regional business organization and coalition member. There's plenty of time to get this right, because this is the electoral map we'll all be living with for the next ten years."
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Check out the maps
House and Senate redistricting proposals - http://redistricting.dls.virginia.gov/2010