How Much Have We Lost?

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Weekly Column: Redistricting Looms: The 44th Changes But Also Stays the Same

The following column appeared in the Mount Vernon Gazette, Mount Vernon Voice, and Patch.com on March 10, 2011:
On April 4, 2011, we will return to Richmond for a constitutionally-mandated special session to consider vetoes and draw boundaries for state and federal legislators’ districts. The Board of Supervisors controls redistricting for Supervisors and School Board seats.

The Constitution of Virginia requires every district to “be composed of contiguous and compact territory and shall be so constituted as to give, as nearly as is practicable, representation in proportion to the population of the district.” There is no requirement that districts be drawn to protect incumbents, consider the political implications of the lines, or yield to communities of interest.

The Voting Rights Act of 1965 also requires the General Assembly to take no step that effectively dilutes minority voting rights. Also, because of Virginia’s history of racial discrimination, all of our electoral activities are subject to the review of the Department of Justice before they become final.
The 2010 Census found that Virginia now has 8,001,024 people. Most of the population growth in Virginia has occurred in Northern Virginia, primarily in Prince William and Loudoun Counties. Northern Virginia is expected to gain 2.5 to delegate seats and one senate seat in the exurbs between Fredericksburg and Leesburg. Hampton Roads will lose a seat along with Southwest Virginia and probably Southside Virginia. This could give the more populous areas more leverage in the legislature.

I support bipartisan or nonpartisan redistricting. Elected officials should not draw their own districts. In the past two years, the State Senate passed legislation to establish bipartisan redistricting, but the House of Delegates killed it. The Governor also campaigned on redistricting reform but did little to press it during this legislative session. He has set up a bipartisan commission to make recommendations and appointed Mount Vernon resident Jean Jensen to serve. Feel free to send them your suggestions or ideas.

The House and Senate will propose their plans later this month and the public will have an opportunity to comment in writing and via public hearing. You can design your own plan, on this website - http://gardow.com/davebradlee/redistricting and if you would like it to be considered. All of the Virginia census and political performance data have been uploaded.

The General Assembly will vote on plans in the first week of April. The plans will then go to the Governor for signature or amendment and then on to the U.S. Department of Justice for approval. Political primaries will take place two-and-a-half months later than usual, on August 23.
Roughly speaking, the 44th District currently includes both sides of U.S. 1 to the Potomac River and from Huntington Avenue to Woodlawn minus the communities of Belleview, Marlan Forest, Villamay, Hollin Hills, and Kirkside which are represented by Del. David Englin. The 44th District, with 79,833 people, is the closest to the “ideal” in the entire state out of 100 districts. It is only “short” 127 people. Although no changes would be required, changes to other districts could affect the 44th District. The 45th District (Englin) to the north is 1,300 people short and the 43rd District (Sickles) to the west is 2,000 people short. Delegate Albo’s district to the south has too many people.

The district I represent, the 44th, has changed since 2000 although parts of it have stayed the same. The 44th has become majority non-white – 35,693 or 44.7% out of 79,833 are White. The 44th was 21% African-American in 2000 and is the exact same percentage today even with population growth. The Hispanic population has increased by 88% in the 44th – from 14.58% to 24.59%. Additionally, those identifying as Asian has risen to 6.9% still well below the 2010 average Asian population in Fairfax County of 17.5%.

Hollin Hall, Waynewood, Fort Hunt and Stratford Precincts rank as #2 through #5 as the least diverse precincts in Fairfax County out of 230 precincts. This is unchanged from 2000. Each is over 91.5% white. Westgate Precinct (around Mount Vernon Estate) ranks 16th. Fairfield Precinct (roughly the west side of U.S. 1 between the
South County Government Center and Little Hunting Creek) is the #1 most diverse precinct in Fairfax County and Groveton, Woodlawn, and Bucknell Precincts are in the top 20.

The rich diversity of our community is one of its important strengths. Given a limit of 80,000 people, I hope the boundaries of the 44th don’t change much. I like it the way it is.

If you have any comments or suggestions, send me an email at scottsurovell@gmail.com. Thank you for the honor of serving as your State Delegate.

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