How Much Have We Lost?

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Weekly Column: Redistricting the 44th & Governor's Vetoes

The following column appeared in the Mount Vernon Gazette, Mount Vernon Voice, and Patch.com on April 4, 2011:

This week, we returned to Richmond for a special session on redistricting and votes on the Governor’s vetoes.

The House of Delegates and Senate announced redistricting plans for their respective bodies about one week ago. Public hearings were held on about 3-4 days notice. Realigning district lines for elected positions 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 although one member introduced an award winning nonpartisan plan created by University of Richmond students. 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.

The latest version of the House Republican Caucus Plan proposes to slightly change my district, the 44th, as follows: Huntington Precinct would be moved to Delegate Mark Sickles’ seat. A small part of Bellehaven Precinct 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. Most of Fort Belvoir north of U.S. 1 would also be added to my district, along with Hayfield Precinct.

Two weeks ago, I wrote that I liked the 44th 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.

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.


Having said that, there is no question that this entire process is flawed. I support nonpartisan redistricting. Elected officials should not draw their own district lines – the People should. The Governor campaigned on bipartisan redistricting and then effectively ignored the issue for our last two sessions. He created a Bipartisan Redistricting Commission only with advisory power and then appears to be distancing himself from their recommendations. Both the House and Senate actually proposed their plans before the Governor’s Bipartisan Redistricting Commission even made its recommendations.


The House and Senate majority caucuses created a timetable that minimized opportunities for public involvement and maximized the ability of incumbents to protect their majorities. The districts that have been drawn are either very Democratic and very Republican. Competitive seats are virtually non-existent. No one is well served by the existing redistricting system except for incumbent politicians, lobbyists, and special interest groups. Fixing this will be a priority for me if the voters return me to office.

We also have a veto session next week. The Governor vetoed legislation requiring elementary students to participate in a minimum of 150 minutes of physical education per week. I voted no 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 us over $18 million and the state is providing no funding. Several of our elementary school principals, music and art teachers also contacted me because this requirement would reduce time in art and music.

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. 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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