Gov. Bob McDonnell (R-VA) expressed displeasure Monday with the Republican Senate’s sneaky maneuver to subvert majority rule and gerrymander the Senate in such a way that could give themselves a super-majority — but has not yet said whether he would veto the bill. But to live up to his previous promises, he will have to do just that.
Yesterday, with civil rights legend Sen. Henry Marsh (D) attending the inauguration, Senate Republicans rammed through new maps on a party-lines 20-19 plurality. Republican Lt. Governor Bill Bolling, who can break ties in the Senate, would have voted against the plan had the vote been tied. The maps were not considered in committee nor available for public comment — rather, Sen. John Watkins (R) offered them as a surprise floor amendment to House Bill 259 — and the Republican plurality limited floor debate to just minutes before forcing a vote on final passage. As Blue Virginia notes, it is unclear whether this mid-decade redistricting is even constitutional, as the Virginia constitution calls for new maps only once every decade.
Assuming the measure passes the Republican-controlled House of Delegates, it will be up to Gov. McDonnell to decide whether to sign the bill — setting up a likely court fight — or veto. But just two years ago, he demanded a bipartisan plan and a transparent process.
In January 2011, McDonnell created an Independent Bipartisan Redistricting Committee to suggest and review new district maps, saying:
As Virginia redraws its legislative districts later this year, the process should take place in a manner that is fair and open. Legislative districts should be drawn in a way that reflects commonsense geographic boundaries and communities of interests as required by law. This Bipartisan Redistricting Commission will contribute to public involvement, openness, and fairness in the redistricting process.”
I am concerned that the Senate plan is the kind of partisan gerrymandering that Virginians have asked we leave in the past. The House of Delegates passed its plan on an overwhelming 86-8 vote, with twenty-eight affirmative votes from members of the minority party. Similarly, in 2001, both the House and Senate plans passed with bipartisan support. In stark contrast, the Senate plan failed to garner any votes from the minority party. Certainly the Senate can create a plan that will be supported by a bipartisan majority of Senators, especially with the Senate’s overwhelming support for a bipartisan redistricting process as expressed in previous legislation.
When he signed a modified plan some weeks later, he said:
In my veto letter, I asked the Senate to send me a plan that was bipartisan and addressed potential legal issues. The plan approved today is in line with those goals. This plan retains more geographic and municipal boundaries, contains districts that are somewhat more compact, and passed the Senate on a strong bipartisan vote. In these aspects it is similar to the House plan. It is a great improvement over the previous plan that I vetoed, and which failed to gain a single vote from the minority party. I applaud the Republican and Democratic members of the Senate who worked well together to craft this compromise plan.
Earlier this month, McDonnell noted in his State of the Commonwealth address, “The Virginia Way has always been about both fighting civilly for our principles and finding common ground. That’s what happens here in Mr. Jefferson’s Capitol.” His actions on H.B. 259 will show whether he meant those words.