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Congressional redistricting plans answered

By Staff | Sep 16, 2011

Several people have asked me what happened with congressional redistricting and why. Here goes.

The legislature did what I thought it would do with congressional redistricting. It made the simplest change possible. That change is called the “Mason County flip.”

By moving only one county, Mason, from one district to another our three congressional districts were brought within the permitted 1-percent population “window.” This means there is no greater than a 1 percent difference in population from the largest of the three districts to the smallest.

By the 2010 census the second district (ours) was about 30,000 people too heavy. The third district (the southern third of the state) was 30,000 people too light. Mason County has been in the second district for 20 years, and has about 27,500 people. Moving it from the second district to the third was the easy fix.

That leaves us in the eastern three counties, as well as the folks in three of the five counties in the western portion of the Eastern Panhandle, in the same congressional district as Charleston (where we have been for the last 20 years). Most people here very much do not like being with Charleston in a congressional district. Count me among them.

Sen. Herb Snyder made a mighty effort to change that. He tried several different alternatives, but in the end they all failed. Why did they fail?

While we don’t like being with Charleston in a congressional district, no other region of our state wants to be with Charleston either. Most folks in Charleston do not want to be with the Eastern Panhandle, but no other region wants to be with the Eastern Panhandle. So we and Charleston are stuck with each other for another 10 years.

The reason nobody wants to be with Charleston is the perception that Charleston, being the capital, will successfully demand the lion’s share of attention from whomever represents the district in Washington. I don’t think that’s necessarily true, but that’s the perception.

The reason nobody wants to be with the Eastern Panhandle is fear that our continued population growth will similarly result in our being able to successfully demand an overly generous amount of attention from whomever is the congressperson.

One plan put forward by Sen. Snyder would have placed the Morgantown-Fairmont-Clarksburg (the “tri-cities) area with us here in the Eastern Panhandle. The delegates and senators from those environs were almost unanimous in their opposition. Another plan would have placed the entire Northern Panhandle in with the Eastern Panhandle, connected by Morgantown. Again, overwhelming opposition.

Finally, Sen. Snyder proposed a smaller change. It was a larger modification of the existing three districts than the Mason flip. He suggested adding to the second district the only two Eastern Panhandle counties not now in the second. In return this plan would have moved three counties near Charleston containing collectively the same amount of people into the first district. At least the second district would no longer meander from the Ohio River to the Blue Ridge Mountains.

This one got close in the Senate, losing by only three votes. But even had it passed, I fear it would have been defeated by a much greater margin in the House of Delegates.

So, for at least another 10 years we’ll be in a congressional district that includes Charleston. And it will still go all the way, in my phrase, “from the depths of the Ohio to the peaks of the Blue Ridge.” (West Virginia owns the entire width of the Ohio to the land on the Ohio side.)