Senate shake-up

Published 9:45 pm Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Suffolk would lose two state senators who represent parts of the city under a surprise redistricting plan passed along party lines on Monday.

The amendment to a bill intended to make only minor technical adjustments instead made major changes to the Senate redistricting plan passed last year. Democrats cried foul, saying the bill only passed in the evenly split Senate because one of their caucus was attending the inauguration festivities in Washington, D.C.

The plan would not become law unless passed by the House of Representatives, signed by Republican Gov. Bob McDonnell and approved by the U.S. Department of Justice. It also wouldn’t go into effect until 2015.

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But if passed, Democrat John Miller (1st) and Republican Thomas Norment (3rd) would no longer represent any of Suffolk. Miller represents the Harbour View precinct, as well as much of the Peninsula. Norment currently claims the Driver and Ebenezer precincts, in addition to other areas.

Under the new plan, Harbour View would be represented by Sen. Louise Lucas, while Ebenezer would be represented by Sen. Harry Blevins. Driver would be split between the two.

Lucas and Blevins would become the only two senators representing parts of Suffolk. A few other precincts also would change hands. Bennett’s Creek and Chuckatuck would switch from Lucas’ district, the 18th, to Blevins’, the 14th. Elephant’s Fork, which is currently split between the two, would be represented solely by Blevins. Lakeside, currently belonging to Blevins, and Olde Towne and Southside, which are now Lucas’, would all be split between the two.

The plan, apparently working from Suffolk’s pre-2012 list of precincts, does not address how the city’s new precincts — Hillpoint, Shoulder’s Hill, Burbage Grant, Huntersville, Belleharbour, Wilroy and Booker T. Washington — would be affected.

Sen. John Watkins (R-10th) sponsored the substitute amendment. In his remarks on the Senate floor, he argued his plan would create an additional district in which racial minorities outnumber whites, bringing the Senate’s total to six. It would comply better with the provisions of the Voting Rights Act, said Jeff Ryer, spokesman for the Virginia Senate Republican Caucus.

Ryer added the proposal cuts in half the deviation in numbers among the districts, better complying with the principle of “one man, one vote.”

He rejected the notion that it was done on Monday only because a Democratic senator was not in the chambers. He said a senator being absent is “not that extraordinary” and suggested it’s a red herring.

“They don’t want to talk about the dramatic contrast between this map, which is better for communities of interest, and their map, which just slices and dices at will so many of the localities in the state,” he said. “If I were them, I’d want to talk about something other than the merits of the map as well.”

Blevins, Lucas, Miller and Norment did not return messages left at their Richmond offices late Tuesday, although Norment’s office referred questions to Ryer.