With the release of census data to state and local legislators, the time is rapidly approaching when we’re going to see some action on redistricting magisterial districts in Prince William County. That data also allows the general public, if they want to engage in a bit of number-crunching, to start projecting what the changes are likely to be and how those changes will impact the political landscape in the county. Riley over at Virtucon already has some potential scenarios posted which are worth looking at more deeply.
As expected the biggest shifts involve the Brentsville District which has to shed over 21,000 residents and the Gainesville District, which has to cast off about 16,000 people. The dramatic increases in population mean these districts have to shrink considerably, and since each precinct has about 5,500 residents that means a lot of precincts are going to be cast off from these two western districts. The district that has to grow the most is Occoquan, which needs to absorb another 17,000 residents, or about three additional precincts. The remainder are fairly close to ideal size but will all have to take on additional residents.
So compressing Gainesville and Brentsville, and expanding Occoquan means that just as expected, Coles is going to have to shift by quite a bit. The scenarios Virtucon has put up so far all push Occoquan into existing Coles precincts and Coles shifting right up to and to some degree around the city of Manassas. There really isn’t much choice here unless you have the current Dumfries district absorb the shrinkage in Brentsville and wrap Coles around to take up a bunch of what has been Dumfries.
The (stupid) legal requirement (and clear political incentive) to protect incumbents as much as possible limits options considerably. Yes, it might make sense to focus line-drawing on keeping communities that share characteristics in one district. You could have a rural crescent district, a district centered on the Manassas suburbs, one that serves mid-county rural areas along with rural crescent areas, Occoquan/Lake Ridge, Woodbridge, and then a catch-all of Neabsco, and it would probably protect a number of incumbents. That’s not good enough. All the incumbents will be protected. Politically, that’s more important.
Here’s an example of the paranoia gripping incumbent legislators as this redistricting process moves forward, just to give you a taste. This is from a source I’d rather not divulge who was pretty taken aback by the behavior of one Supervisor who not only has a district pinned to the corner of the county which isn’t going anywhere, but is one of the few districts where I’ve heard of no one interested in challenging them in a primary:
Caddigan showed up for a short whirlwind appearance at the Lincoln-Reagan Dinner just to get her face seen. She was overheard talking to people saying, “There’s my opponent over there…” She never identified the person and she would abruptly take off from the conversations before she could be asked who it was. Her paranoia was so thick that you could only cut it with the rotor blade from a black helicopter. Judging from both the attendees list and photos from the event, there wasn’t even anyone there from the Dumfries District who is considering a run let alone someone who could be described as her “opponent.” Perhaps she is delusional that Dumfries Councilwoman Kristin Forrester is going to run against her, but Forrester has flatly told people she has no interest in serving on the Board of Supervisors.
Anyone acting like that isn’t going to behave as if they were interested in the best interests of their constituents to approve lines that make sense. They’re going to demand the lines gerrymander everyone in their old district no matter if the result is someone living on the border of Manassas City is in the same district as someone living past Independent Hill on Rt. 234. That’s just the reality of the situation. Politics will trump everything else, but that really shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone.
While districts are going to shift, there’s nothing in the data that precludes drawing every incumbent into a district. As much as I’d like to think that Marty Nohe will inevitably be drawn into Neabsco or Dumfries I doubt that’s going to happen no matter how crazy the lines end up getting drawn. Wally Convington is going to lobby really hard to shed precincts where potential challengers reside, and I’ve heard there may be as many as three of them so that exercise in incumbent protection is going to be pretty difficult. Jenkins is pretty invulnerable and as a play-along-and-get-along member of the minority party, the board is going to keep him safe. Stirrup is safe. And Caddigan, if she can set aside her paranoia for a moment will likely draw a challenger only if Dumfries swallows up some Brentsville precinct with one of Wally’s constituents upset with his development policies and figuring knocking off Caddigan is an opportunity to make Wally’s life on the Board sufficiently difficult to merit the effort.
Longer term, what precincts move where and what that means for the political balance of power for the next decade is more significant, and the outlook there’s still pretty murky. The precincts around Sudley North aren’t very favorable to Republicans so they’re going to have to be divided between Brentsville and Gainesville to dilute their electoral influence. Coles might wrap around to soak up Ellis to help dilute this block a bit further, taking Brentsville and Bennett precincts along with it as a massive consolation prize, making Coles much more conservative overall. Occoquan would expand almost inexorably into Westridge, McCoart and Penn making it slightly more Republican. The likely changes in other districts don’t change their electoral balance by much at least until the effects of increased development density start making parts of Haymarket and Gainesville into localized neo-communist strongholds as are now growing in Woodbridge.
Even though we’re going to see some of the biggest shifts in supervisor districts in the Commonwealth, it doesn’t look like they’re going to change things a whole lot. The line shifts will make it a bit more difficult for some incumbents to hold on to power, but not dramatically more difficult than it would be without redistricting. The incentive from every direction for elected officials is to keep every incumbent safe, and I’ve no doubt that’s exactly what the Board will do.
The opinions expressed here are solely the views of the author, and not representative of the position of any organization, political party, doughnut shop, knitting guild, or waste recycling facility, but may be correctly attributed to the Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy. If anything in the above article has offended you, please click here to receive an immediate apology.
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