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Legislators to hash out districts

By Staff | Jul 29, 2011

State legislators will convene in Charleston Monday, Aug. 1 for a special session for the House of Delegates and the State Senate to pass legislation regarding redistricting, which happens every 10 years in conjunction with the dissemination of U.S. Census data.

“After consulting with both Acting Senate President Jeff Kessler and House Speaker Rick Thompson, I have been informed that both chambers will be prepared on Aug. 1 to go into a special legislative session to consider and pass legislation for the redistricting of legislative and congressional districts,” said acting Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin in a statement. “Special committees have been diligently working on this important task, and I am pleased that they are prepared to proceed now.”

Delegates Tiffany Lawrence (D-58th) and John Doyle (D-57th) submitted their redistricting draft plans to the House Redistricting Committee last week and will work with others next week to align their maps.

But Lawrence, a member of the House Redistricting Committee, is apprehensive about the special session going quickly. She said realistically she does not believe five days to a week will allow enough time to “mesh the regions.”

Doyle said when it came to drafting plans for Jefferson County, he and Lawrence focused on keeping municipalities within district lines as well as staying along magisterial lines as much as possible. To draw a new district, Doyle had to give up approximately 4,000 constituents and Lawrence 5,500.

The two, along with Delegate Eric Householder (R-56th), held forums to garner public opinion after receiving U.S. Census information. According to the Census Bureau, Jefferson County’s population has changed 26.8 percent since 2000.

After considering how redrawing lines will impact magisterial and municipal districts and upcoming elections, representatives drafted their plans and submitted them to the respective committees.

One point of contention in this year’s redistricting is the issue of single-member districts. Some try to make it a partisan issue, but Lawrence believes it has turned into that due to backing by the state Chamber of Commerce and many from the business community with conservative values.

“I don’t view it as a partisan issue at all,” she said.

“Too many of the Republican leaders have made it a partisan issue,” Doyle said. “I think we could get the vote for single member districts, (but there are partisan Democrats) that are now not going to do it because the Republicans are for it.”

The Eastern Panhandle, already comprised of single-member districts, has elected a mix of democrats and republicans, with a majority of the republican representation residing in Berkeley County.

“Ideally I think that John and I agree there should be 100 single-member districts within the state,” Lawrence said, “because we believe in one man, one vote.”

But, neither Lawrence nor Doyle believe getting to 100 single-delegate districts can be done in just one step.

With his a statewide plan about 80 percent outlined, Doyle believes a plan of 80 single- and 10 dual-member districts is the first step. He said this allows the regions to keep their district numbers while adding two more the 59th and 60th while some would be separated into “A” and “B” sections, allowing for the election of more than one individual in those districts.

After a meet-and-greet with young professionals in the Eastern Panhandle Wednesday, Tomblin agreed he did not think 100 single-member districts would be achieved this year. He said while there are more single-delegate than there were in the 1970s when he came into office, he hopes legislators can continue progress towards more of the one man, one vote representation.

“I think it just puts the members of the House closer to their constituents,” Tomblin said, adding he hopes legislators can achieve “fairly representation at all levels of state government” at the upcoming special session.

Doyle said besides making the transition to single member districts easier, he also believes in his plan because in many multi-member districts the elected officials all live very close together.

“It would be difficult to divide a large district and separate the incumbents so that you didn’t have two incumbents being forced to attempt to knock each other off,” he said.

He added, “I would argue this is not incumbent protection in the traditional sense. Incumbent protection in the traditional sense is drawing a district to suit a particular incumbent.”

The plans must be approved by both the House and Senate before being sent back to county officials to begin magisterial redistricting. House districts can allow for a 5 percent variance on over or under optimum population, according to state law.

The special session is expected to begin at noon on Aug. 1. Other agenda items include tax changes, supplemental appropriations and P20 Data sharing providing WorkForce West Virginia the ability to share data with certain state departments.