A tough redistricting lesson to learn

Published 8:29 pm Monday, May 2, 2011

Gov. Bob McDonnell, who vetoed one redistricting plan brought to him by the Virginia General Assembly, seemed pleased with the second one, which was completed last week amid negotiations between the state’s Republican and Democratic parties.

“It is a great improvement over the previous plan that I vetoed and which failed to gain a single vote from the minority party (in the Senate),” McDonnell said last week. “I applaud the Republican and Democratic members of the Senate who worked well together to craft this compromise plan.”

While the plan, which defines the state’s new voting boundaries, might be a good compromise for the state, it represents a painful kick in the shins for voters in the city of Suffolk. Most of the city has been part of a single senate district for the past couple of decades. The new plan splits the city into four Senate districts, effectively sacrificing the seat held by Sen. Fred Quayle (R) to the growth experienced in Northern Virginia.

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The earlier plan would have moved a seat from Virginia Beach to Northern Virginia, which still would have left that city with local representation. On the other hand, each of the new districts that encompasses portions of Suffolk will have a majority of non-Suffolk voters included, diluting Suffolk’s representation almost to nothing.

It was hardly the way things should have turned out for Hampton Roads’ fastest-growing city. But the fact that Hampton Roads as a region is losing a seat in the Senate to the faster-growing Northern Virginia area should be instructive to those in the area who might wonder where our greatest competitive threat lies.

Northern Virginia’s growth will continue to shape the state’s politics, its economy and its future for a long time to come, especially if Hampton Roads’ separate communities do not learn to cooperate to accomplish shared goals.

This redistricting process — coming on the heels of the decennial census that showed the region’s growth as anemic outside of Suffolk — should be a wakeup call in Hampton Roads. Approaching our regional problems in the old conventional ways will assure that we continue to lag behind Northern Virginia in political clout, in state funding and in economic development.