Virginia Senate districts redrawn

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Galax and Carroll would join Grayson in 40th District, represented by Sen. Bill Carrico (R-Grayson County)

Landmark News Service and Staff Reports

Carroll and Grayson counties and Galax would be taken from three Virginia Senate districts and combined with other localities into one Senate district, as part of a redistricting plan proposed this week.
The proposal would place Carroll, Grayson and Galax within the 40th Senatorial District effective with the 2015 election. The 40th in its present format is represented by Sen. Bill Carrico (R- Grayson).
New districts were in effect when all 40 state senators were elected in 2011 under a plan that split the three Twin County jurisdictions among three districts. Each of the three elected a Republican senator.
Sen. Bill Stanley (R-Franklin County) defeated incumbent Democrat Roscoe Reynolds in the race for the 20th District, which includes Galax and part of Carroll.
A portion of Carroll County is within the 19th District, which elected Sen. Ralph Smith (R-Roanoke County).
Carrico’s 40th District presently includes all of Grayson County, but none of Carroll or Galax.
If the controversial redistricting plan is passed as proposed, a 40th District senator would be elected in 2015 to represent a district comprised of the cities of Galax and Bristol; all of the counties of Carroll, Grayson, Patrick, Smith and Washington; four precincts in Floyd County; and eight precincts in Scott County.
Past fights on redistricting and political control in the Virginia Senate resurfaced Monday when Republicans revised Senate districts, a move that benefits the GOP but threatens to mar the legislative process going forward.
Democrats reacted angrily to the maneuver and vowed to block policy items such as Gov. Bob McDonnell’s road funding package if the new map stands.
Members also called it an unconstitutional power grab done when the absence of a caucus member gave GOP senators the one vote advantage needed for passage, and said litigation is a distinct possibility.
The Senate approved the new boundaries on a party line vote of 20-19. Richmond Democrat Henry Marsh was at President Barack Obama’s inauguration Monday and missed the Senate floor session at which the vote was taken.
The move blindsided Senate Democrats and reopened partisan wounds inflicted last year, when Republicans used Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling’s tie-breaking vote to seize working control of the evenly divided chamber.
Democrats said the Republican gambit could ruin chances for bipartisan cooperation on transportation funding, the state budget and other issues.
“It throws into jeopardy everything they need that 21st vote for,” said Sen. Creigh Deeds (D-Bath County).
The General Assembly passed a redistricting plan in 2011, when Democrats had a majority in the Senate. Lawmakers typically make only minor adjustments to district boundaries until the next decennial redistricting occurs.
The new map acutely impacts two senators – Deeds and Republican Sen. Emmett Hanger of Augusta County – who have been drawn into a combined district.
It also creates a new Southside Virginia Senate district – from Franklin to Danville – with a majority black population. There are five such districts now.
Republicans point out their plan represents the first increase in the number of majority-black state Senate districts since 1991.
Deeds’ current Senate district stretches from Bath County to Charlottesville, but also includes Alleghany and Rockbridge counties and the cities of Lexington and Buena Vista. Those localities would become part of the 19th District, now represented by Smith. Smith, who has had official residences in Botetourt and Roanoke counties, now claims Bedford County as his official voting address.
Democrat John Edwards of Roanoke would lose Montgomery County and pick up Pulaski, Bland, Craig and Wythe counties.
“It’s an underhanded sneak attack,” Edwards said of the changes.
Montgomery County, Radford and 11 Roanoke County precincts would shift to the 20th District, represented by Stanley. All Franklin County would be in the 20th District.
The Senate attached the redrawn districts as an amendment to a bill that makes minor changes to several House of Delegates districts. The House must approve the Senate’s handiwork before the bill would go to McDonnell’s desk.
Republican Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling, the tie-breaking vote in the divided Senate, through a spokeswoman said he didn’t support the GOP plan and worries about the consequences to come.
“He is concerned that it could create a hyper-partisan atmosphere that could make it very difficult for us to address other important priorities like transportation and education reform,” Bolling spokeswoman Ibbie Hedrick said in an e-mail.
A spokesman for Gov. Bob McDonnell said the governor was surprised to learn that redistricting legislation was back on the table and had not seen the bill, but will review it if reaches his desk.
Transportation “is dead” unless McDonnell vetoes the latest reapportionment plan, said a fuming Senate Democratic Leader Richard Saslaw of Fairfax County after the Monday vote.
Ultimately, any changes would still need approval from the governor and clearance from the U.S. Justice Department.
If all that happens, current Senate districts will remain intact until 2015, when all 40 seats in the Senate would be up for election under the revised map.
Redistricting is done by the legislature every 10 years.