Officials: Redistricting means gains for area
MARTINSBURG – Eastern Panhandle residents stand to gain considerable representation in Charleston – in both the Senate and House of Delegates – as state redistricting work gets under way later this year, legislators said Wednesday.
That’s a distinct change from other years, when southern West Virginia and its politicians were the primary beneficiaries of new lines being drawn as the state’s populations changed, local legislators agreed.
After looking at the first 2010 Census figures released by the federal government last month, Delegate John Overington, R-Berkeley, predicted it will be a different regional experience and outcome this time.
He believes Berkeley County could have six delegates, followed by Jefferson County with three delegates and Morgan County with one delegate, when the plans are finalized. The Panhandle currently has eight total in those three counties.
“Having been through it before, in the past it has been a very self-serving process,” said Overington, recalling how some politicians based redistricting decisions on personal political considerations.
Sen. Herb Snyder, D-Jefferson, who recalled how past efforts had not been kind to the Eastern Panhandle, agreed the future looks bright now for the area – partially because of its growing population, coupled with changes in Senate leadership.
Those changes include acting Senate President Jeff Kessler, D-Marshall, and his appointment this week of Sen. John Unger, D-Berkeley, as Senate majority leader, as well as Snyder being chosen as Government Organization Committee chairman.
“In the Senate, they started in southern West Virginia and worked out … which was a backward way to do it,” Snyder said.
“But the Senate reorganization is also a big-ticket item that’s now on the table for the Eastern Panhandle, maybe more than anything else that’s happening. Because now you’ve got an acting Senate president from one of the panhandles, who understands that the panhandles are often treated like the red-haired stepchild – and definitely in terms of redistricting. That’s the way we were treated last time, but that’s not going to happen this time because of this change,” he said.
Snyder said there will be a new 15th senatorial district, thanks to the redistricting.
“Berkeley County is really going to win big in this because you will no doubt elect two senators, one from the 15th and one from the 16th. So this is another way this redistricting is huge, particularly for Berkeley County but also the overall Eastern Panhandle,” he said.
While the process needs to be fair, it will mean noticeable changes that some areas may not like, Snyder said.
“We’re making up for 20 years. … A lot of the shrinking districts, particularly in southern West Virginia, were protected to the extent they could be under federal law. Now we’re going to make up for what didn’t happen from 1990 to 2000, but also from 2000 to 2010, so it may be painful for some areas,” he said.
“It’s going to happen to the point that you’re going to see a change in philosophy, I believe, in the social and economic approach of the state Senate because they’re going to shift so dramatically,” Snyder said.