Governor McDonnel’s veto of redistricting plan sets up a unique battle between Senate Majority leader Dick Saslaw and the Governor that could have wide-ranging impacts on the political landscape of Virginia for the next ten years. Saslaw has dug in, daring Governor McDonnell to veto the same bad plan he vows to advance again, and is boxing himself in a corner where all the likely alternatives nearly guarantee that Democrats lose control of the Senate in short order.
Dick Saslaw gave Senator George Barker a nearly impossible task — to redraw Senate lines in such a way that Democrats could hold on to their narrow control of the Senate as retirements loom and incumbents move on to other challenges. Although Virginia is considered somewhat of a swing state it most often is a pretty Republican state, and a bi-partisan redistricting proposal was drawn such that about 65% of the proposed senate districts would have voted for McDonnel/Bolling/Cuccinelli. That’s pretty much what a non-partisan redistricting has to look like, and it takes a lot of creative line drawing to reconfigure those districts so that Democrats would have the edge in a majority of the districts. The results were derided in the press and the blogosphere as being ridiculous, and failed to garner a single Republican vote in favor of them while in the House only 9 Democrats voted against the House redistricting plan.
Governor McDonnell vetoes the plan, and Saslaw is now threatening to re-introduce the same plan as if daring McDonnell to do what he has already done one more time might be considered threatening given that McDonnell has received widespread bipartisan support for his actions. If Saslaw follows through here and prevents any redistricting plan from coming to pass, it may be devastating for Democrats.
First, the Congressional redistricting plan was put on hold by the Senate until after the House and Senate plans were resolved. If everything is thrown into chaos, Virginia could simply defer Congressional redistricting until after November, when the Democrats might lose control of the Senate. If that happens, for the next ten years lines drawn by a Republican House, a Republican Senate and approved by a Republican Governor would define out congressional districts. Say goodbye, Congressman Gerry Connolly. We hardly knew ye.
Second, any plan drawn by a judge is likely to be far more fair than the gerrymander attempted by Saslaw and Barker. A judge might even decide that instead of taking all that time to draw maps he might just start with the bipartisan redistricting proposal and tweak it a bit, saving himself a lot of time and trouble, and coming up that way with a plan that would easily be fair and legally defensible. That plan wouldn’t take effect until 2012, so this November we’d have House and Senate candidates running in the districts as they’re currently drawn. Those current districts have quite a few opportunities for Republicans. Say goodbye, Senator George Barker, we hardly knew ye.
Lastly, if we’re going to have Senators running in 2011 within the current districts, and then again in 2012 in new districts drawn by a judge, it’s going to be really tough for people used to running every four years to face back-to-back campaigns. Any time you can wear down fundraising machines it’s going to help challengers by establishing a more level playing field. With Democrats defending their 22-18 majority, state-wide the numbers against them, and Saslaw’s political liability for creating this situation in the first place, this is going to make a lot of incumbents grumble. Dissension in the ranks is never a good thing for a majority. Goodbye Senator Chuck Colgan, we knew ye maybe a little bit better than we might have wanted to.
Saslaw’s “nanny-nanny-boo-boo” act here is laughable. Go ahead chump, and just try to force that horrible plan through the General Assembly once again. This time the House will never pass it, as they’ve already gotten enough heat for the insider backroom deal they made with you before. If they do the Governor will veto it again, and once again the press will salute him for it, as they well should. Republicans should be more than happy to let the whole thing fall to a judge, as whatever a judge will do is likely to be far better than your gerrymandering. I think Republicans would choose the current lines over the Senate proposal, too.
If we were to have this year’s election use last year’s lines, there wouldn’t be a whole lot of likely changes in the House but there would be four or five very competitive seats held by Democrats in the Senate. All Republicans need to do is pick off two of them, and they have the majority with Bill Bolling’s tie-breaking vote. Republicans can then draw the congressional districts, and if they manage to gum up the legal works for a little while they might even be able to preempt a judge’s decision by redrawing the House and Senate lines before he’s done.
So what does Saslaw think he’s got to win here? The plan George Barker drew is dead, and there’s no way it’s going to be enacted. Any plan that’s reasonably going to pass is going to put a number of Democrats in danger and put majority control of the Senate up for grabs.
As Dick Saslaw sits devising strategy in La Belle Alliance, a distraught Mary Margaret Whipple rushes past shouting “The Imperial Guard retreats! Save yourself if you can!”
McDonnell is advancing. Napolean is defeated.
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