How Much Have We Lost?

Friday, April 1, 2011

Weekly Column: The New Proposed 44th District and Veto Session Approaches

The following column appeared in the Mount Vernon Gazette, Mount Vernon Voice, and Patch.com on March 31, 2011:

The General Assembly will convene in a special session on April 4 in Richmond to adopt redistricting plans and vote on the Governor’s vetoes.


The House of Delegates and Senate announced redistricting plans for their respective bodies this past week. Realigning district lines for elected postions is required because of population changes documented by the decennial census.


The House of Delegates’ Republican Caucus has proposed a redistricting plan for House districts. The House Democratic Caucus has not presented a plan. You can view all proposals online by going to my blog, The Dixie Pig at scottsurovell.blogspot.com. I have posted links and instructions there if you would like to view the plans.


I support nonpartisan redistricting. I do not believe elected officials should draw their own district lines. The Governor also campaigned on bipartisan redistricting but did not actively work for it during our recent session. He created a Bipartisan Redistricting Commission, but it has no real power. It is advisory only. Both the House and Senate actually proposed their plans before the Governor’s Bipartisan Redistricting Commission even made its recommendations.


House of Delegates’ districts must have 80,000 people and State Senate seats 200,000. The House and Senate have adopted competing redistricting criteria ranging from .5 percent to 1 percent or +/- 400 to 800 people. Finalizing these criteria will be our first order of business.


The House plan proposes to change my district, the 44th, as follows: Huntington Precinct would be moved to Delegate Mark Sickles’ seat. Bellehaven Precinct (the area around West Potomac High School) would be moved to Delegate David Englin’s seat, and Westgate Precinct (the area south of Mount Vernon Memorial Highway) would be moved back into Delegate Dave Albo’s seat where it was until 2001. Kirkside Precinct (essentially Hollin Hills & northern Gum Springs) and Marlan Precinct (Villamay, Marlan Forest and eastern Quander Road) would be moved from Delegate David Englin’s district into my my district, along with the most of Belleview Precinct. Huntley Meadows Park would also be added to my district, along with Hayfield Precinct and a small part of Fort Belvoir.


No plan is final. We will debate and vote on them in the special session. The plans must go to the Governor for veto or line-item vetos and then the U.S. Department of Justice for what is called a “pre-clearance” under the Voting Rights Act of 1965. There is always the possibility of a legal challenge as well.


Two weeks ago, I wrote that I like my district the way it is. The district is the closest to the target population number in the entire state without any changes. Thankfully, the proposal did not do significant harm to communities of interest in my district. Under the proposed House of Delegates plan, I would still mainly represent the same communities, the same high school pyramids and the bulk of the U.S. 1 corridor. I welcome some new constituents. You may recall that in 2009, I knocked on over 8,000 doors in the 44th district. When you go out, meet people face to face, into the “innards” of a community, and then fight for them in Richmond, you develop a deep sense of responsibility and ownership of “your turf.” It would be hard to let parts of my current district go. For sure, I will miss some of my current constituents if the current House plan is approved.


We also have a veto session next week. The Governor vetoed his first bill -- legislation requiring schools to provide elementary students to participate in a minimum of 150 minutes of physical education per week. I voted no on the bill originally and will support the Governor’s veto. While I support encouraging children to be physically active, Fairfax County Public Schools estimates that this requirement will cost Fairfax County over $18 million and the state is providing no funding. We cannot continue to require Fairfax County to take actions without providing funding.


Also, several Mount Vernon elementary school principals also contacted me and said this requirement would reduce time in art, music and other classes. I do not support sacrificing academics and art and music for physical education, activities that can be done outside of school.


The Governor also vetoed three other bills including an agreement to raise Virginia’s medical malpractice cap, and increase civil penalties for pollution. I will vote to override those vetoes.


Please watch the news for any additional vetoes and contact me to share your views. This will likely be the last article to go to print before we vote next week. You can email me at scottsurovell@gmail.com. You can also stay informed by reading my blog, The Dixie Pig, at scottsurovell.blogspot.com.


It is an honor to serve as your State Delegate.

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