Bristol Chamber of Commerce Urges Strong Representation for Southwest Virginia

Beth Rhinehart, President and CEO of the Bristol Chamber of Commerce, testified at the July 29 hearing of the Virginia Redistricting Commission that focused on the Southwest region.  “Strong representation of southwest Virginia in the General Assembly and Congress is truly essential to the future of our region especially during a time when many of our citizens feel we are more closely aligned with our four neighboring states than our own. To mitigate this affect we should strive to keep ‘communities of interest’ together.”

Rhinehart spoke of the I-81 corridor as the “essential link that ties their “community of interest” together through daily flow of goods, services, and people.” She also referred to Routes 19, 460 and 48 through the coal field region.  “Many localities have been working together to strengthen partnerships and formed regional Industrial Development Authorities (IDAs). Keeping them together within districts will continue to help localities united among common goals and leverage shared resources to expand opportunities.”  (The Bristol Chamber of Commerce represents Bristol, Virginia; Bristol, Tennessee; and surrounding counties.)

The second speaker was Kyle Barnes from Princeton, New Jersey, Executive Director of Representable, which was developed in partnership with the Princeton Gerrymandering Project.  Representable has been working with the League of Women Voters and OneVirginia2021 to hold events and assist citizens in drawing maps of their communities.  The Representable database now includes over 100 maps with accompanying testimony from communities across the state of Virginia and is growing.  The commissioners were invited to view the maps at representable.org/map/va

(The map platform is also available to the public free of charge.)  Barnes further implored the Commission to “make a renewed effort and commitment to engaging the great diversity of communities across the state to share about their community of interest.”  As the hearing was brought to a close, citizen commissioner James Abrenio mentioned a problem with the Representable link.  (It is correct, however, and the Commission was provided with further assistance.)

Rhinehart and Barnes were, unfortunately, the only two persons providing testimony at the July 29 hearing.  Two other persons pre-registered but did not appear to speak.  The Southwest region, as defined by the Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service, includes the Counties of Bland, Buchanan, Carroll, Dickenson, Grayson, Lee, Russell, Scott, Smyth, Tazewell, Washington, and Wise and the Cities of Bristol, Galax, and Norton.

Citizen Co-chair Greta Harris presided at this virtual hearing.  Other citizens present were Co-chair Mackenzie Babichenko, James Abrenio, Richard Harrell, Brandon Hutchins, and Sean Kumar.  Legislator commissioners attending were Sen. Ryan McDougle (R-Mechanicsville), Sen. Steve Newman (R-Forest), Del. Margaret Ransone (R-Kinsale), and Del Marcus Simon (D- Falls Church).

Co-chair Harris urged the commissioners to “Eat your Wheaties” in preparation for a full day on Tuesday, August 3.  The day will include a full Commission meeting at 4 p.m. followed by an in-person public hearing at 6 p.m.  focusing on the Central region.  The day is also a Special Session of the General Assembly for the legislators.  Full details for these meetings are available on the Commission’s website.

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