Goodbye, Senator Quayle

Published 11:15 pm Tuesday, June 7, 2011

When state Sen. Fred Quayle (R-14) was forced to miss the redistricting session in Virginia’s General Assembly because of back surgery earlier this year, the die was cast for Suffolk.

Without the senator there to protect his seat representing a large portion of Suffolk, the other 39 senators in attendance had little incentive to work out a redistricting plan that would protect a hometown seat for Virginia’s largest city. And with a gubernatorial directive to develop a bipartisan redistricting plan, the order of the day was to find a way to redraw Virginia’s senate districts as quickly as possible and with as little dispute as could be arranged.

Quayle surely can’t be faulted for having to go under the knife when he did. He’d been hobbling about on a cane for some time while he waited for the General Assembly session to wrap up, and his pain was evident to those who watched him try to get around in the weeks before the surgery.

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And it’s naïve to expect that politicians from the rest of Hampton Roads or Northern Virginia would work to protect Suffolk’s seat during the redistricting process. In fact, the seat was at risk as soon as the results of the 2010 census were announced, showing major population increases throughout Northern Virginia and — aside from Suffolk itself — tepid growth around Hampton Roads.

Northern Virginia continues to grow more powerful, while the rest of the state loses influence. This time, Suffolk suffers. If the trend is not arrested, the next time, it could be Chesapeake that finds itself represented by several different senators without the slightest connection to the city.

Quayle has been a stalwart representative on Suffolk’s behalf during his 20 years of service in the Virginia Senate. His work has not often made the headlines, but city officials say that he has always worked to carry the legislation that they’ve needed to help improve the city. And he has been known on both sides of the political spectrum as a fair man whose commitment to his party would not stand in the way of doing the right thing.

His decision not to run for reelection in the face of a challenge to Chesapeake’s Harry Blevins reflects both loyalty to his friend and a realistic assessment of the likelihood that he would not come out on top against a man already established among that city’s larger population.

Still, it’s a sad day for Suffolk. And we can only wonder who among Suffolk’s new senators from Portsmouth, Chesapeake, Newport News and Williamsburg will show themselves to be the city’s new champion in the Virginia Senate. It could be a long 10 years before the next redistricting comes along.