Redistricting reform needed

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Gerrymandering is a long-accepted practice in politics in which the party in power in a state has the advantage of being able to redraw district lines. This allows them the opportunity to enhance their hold on power and diminish the prospects for opposition parties or candidates.

The system has always been abused. The most recent, egregious example of it gone awry was in Texas where the redrawing of lines prompted calling out Homeland Security forces to track down Democrats who had fled the state in protest.

It’s hard to imagine that’s what the founders had in mind.


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What the system has wrought is basically one-party rule. As the Richmond Times-Dispatch pointed out in an editorial Monday, only one of 15 House of Delegates districts in Richmond this year saw major party competition. In Suffolk, Del. S. Chris Jones’ received only token opposition, not even from the Democratic Party. It was from something known as the Constitution Party.

Nationally, in a typical year for House of Representatives elections, fewer than 50 of the 435 representatives face more than token opposition.

The reason is that with little chance of winning, it’s difficult to find people willing to do the work and try to raise the huge sums it takes to even mount a serious challenge.

It’s a system that leads to arrogance and corruption, as we’re seeing in all the scandals taking place in the House.

Recent efforts to reform the system have met with fierce opposition and devastating defeat. A proposal by California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to turn redistricting over to a panel of retired judges failed miserably earlier this month when entrenched interests to maintain the status quo mobilized forces and huge sums of money against it.

The Times-Dispatch had praise for then-candidate Tim Kaine who had a better idea for dealing with redistricting:

“Our current system of legislative redistricting is designed to protect incumbents and dramatically reduces competition in legislative races. I believe that a non-partisan redistricting commission, made up of individuals who are neither officeholders nor party officials, is the best way to draw legislative districts. I’ve long supported changing Virginia’s system in that way and will continue to do so as Governor.”

Kaine has the opportunity now to act on the assertion for the good of Virginia and we hope Republican leaders in the House and Senate join in the effort. It should be a non-partisan issue.

“Gerrymandering was wrong when Democrats drew Virginia’s maps,” the Times-Disptach opined. “It is wrong now that Republicans control the cartography. In 1607 the American experiment began. It would be fitting indeed if the Commonwealth celebrated the 400th anniversary of Jamestown by putting an end to the political protection racket known as gerrymandering. Candidate Kaine staked out an admirable position. It would behoove the General Assembly’s Republicans to join a Democratic Governor in bipartisan reform.”

If there’s any place it can and should happen, it’s in Virginia, where pragmatic, sensible government has a long tradition. It’s likely to take a long time before real change can be affected, but it would be good to see our state and its leaders be at the forefront of a movement to improve democracy.