Central Region Residents Give Feedback on Maps
Nearly 40 people signed up to speak at the Wednesday afternoon hearing. Eighteen were able to join and speak to the Commissioners. Most hailed from Charlottesville and Albemarle County. Seven of eight legislator commissioners were in attendance, as well as two citizen commissioners.
Most of the speakers requested that the city of Charlottesville and Albemarle County be kept together in one legislative district because of their shared interests and activities. They mentioned that Fluvanna, Nelson or Greene counties could be connected to get more population as they are neighboring jurisdictions and belong to the same regional planning district (#10). Several expressed concerns about Albemarle districts crossing over the mountains into more rural Augusta County.
There were also a few speakers from Henrico County. One mentioned maps that separates the Asian community in Henrico. Other speakers requested that college and university campuses not be split into different districts; still others made suggestions for redrawing Congressional districts.
Eleven speakers hailed from the city of Charlottesville and Albemarle , Buckingham and Greene Counties.
Kay Slaughter, former mayor and city council member in Charlottesville, asked the Commission to not gerrymander Albemarle County. She noted that House map A7 (drawn by Republican mapdrawer, John Morgan) divides Albemarle into three districts; Albemarle does not form a “community of interest” with Augusta County. Map B6 shows 2 districts for Albemarle, with one district (81) crossing the mountains (into Augusta County). She suggested getting population from Nelson, Fluvanna or Greene Counties instead. These counties are part of the same planning district, #10. Residents commute for work, medical care, shopping and cultural activities. Augusta is more connected to the Valley, and Lynchburg to others. In closing, Slaughter noted the death of Mr. Leigh Middleditch, a longtime resident and civic leader of Albemarle, who promoted nonpartisan redistricting reform for a long time. “He would’ve asked you to apply non-gerrymandering to his beloved Albemarle.”
Michael Rodemeyer noted that Albemarle County is currently divided into 4 different House districts (57-59, and 25). He made a plea to keep Albemarle together, saying it had more in common with Charlottesville than neighboring rural areas. He echoed Slaughter’s concern about Albemarle being in same district as Augusta County. He closed by thanking the Commissioners for their time, noting that it’s a difficult and sometimes thankless job. But “do the job voters sent you to do; preserve fair districts for voters rather than politicians. You have the power.”
Elly Tucker, who has lived in Charlottesville/Albemarle Co for 45 years, thanked the Commissioners for their work. She described Charlottesville and Albemarle residents going to the same markets, shopping mall and music events without saying “I’m going to Charlottesville” or “I’m going to Albemarle.” She asked both sides to work together for one set of maps, keeping Charlottesville and Albemarle together as one Community of Interest. She criticized map A7 as splitting Albemarle 3 ways, and B6 as better with only 2 districts for Albemarle. She criticized current Congressional District 5 as “terrible” and asked that it be made more compact. Tucker asked for more data, including early and absentee voting data, in the future. She concluded by asking the Commission to “show the country that Virginia can shine to produce bipartisan maps and districts.”
Tim Hickey, a former House of Delegates candidate from south Albemarle County, described current maps as “insidious partisan gerrymanders” that, for the past 10 years, sliced the county into 4 different House districts. “Albemarle is 70% Democrat; why do we now have 3 Republican and 1 Democrat” representatives? “They deserve better”, he said, proposing that Charlottesville and surrounding area form one district, with the rest of Albemarle in the second district. He described part of the proposed map A7 as sensible, pairing Albemarle with Nelson County; but he urged the Commission to reject other aspects of A7 which “slices the heart of the community to draw in Amherst” which, in his opinion, belongs to Lynchburg. “Respect the people of Albemarle County.”
Pat Cochran of Albemarle County, speaking for the League of Women Voters of Greater Charlottesville, said she has been watching this process for a long time, and was excited that the Commissioners are working so hard to draw lines. She echoed Rodemeyer and Slaughter – she wants Albemarle and Charlottesville to be kept together. “Don’t divide us. We are one community.”
Thomas Jordan Miles, member of the Buckingham County Board of Supervisors, supported Slaughter, Cochran and other previous speakers regarding Albemarle. District 79 on House map A7 splits Prince Edward County, which has been “through a lot historically” and should be kept together. Regarding Senate B4 map, Miles welcomes Buckingham County being paired with counties to the north. He further echoed comments of others that Congressional District 5 is “really screwed up.”
Kelen Squire, an ER nurse in Albemarle and former candidate for House of Delegates, described his ER patients as coming from Charlottesville, Albemarle, Fluvanna, Greene, and Nelson Counties – part of the Thomas Jefferson Health District. He advised the Commission, “don’t be afraid to go back to the drawing board.” “Incumbent protection and partisan gerrymandering is not what voters wanted.” He expressed concern that one of the mapdrawers had drawn maps that were thrown out by the courts before. “Don’t embarrass Virginia. It’s time to do it right; show the rest of the country what Virginia can do.”
Sue Lewis (Charlottesville) said she shares concerns stated by others. She described her personal criteria for maps: 1) respect for geographic boundaries – this would eliminate B6 map which goes across the mountains; 2) communities of interest, which are addressed pretty well; 3) least overlapping districts which create voter confusion (as member of League of Women Voters, we’re “very interested in not confusing voters”; and 4) compactness. Looking at the B6 map, get rid of “crossing the Blue Ridge” in District 81; District 80 is “OK, keep it as is.” On the A7 map, 75 is interesting, 76 is too disruptive to voters. Senate B4 map keeps Albemarle together, though “I’m not sure about adding Buckingham.”
Edgar Lara, a member of multiple coalitions, moved from Waynesboro to Albemarle. He lives near I-64 in a fast-growing, primarily immigrant community whose residents share similar jobs, culture and Spanish as a first language. He wants to see a more compact Congressional district, which could include my community west to Staunton, north to Harrisonburg, Culpeper, Front Royal, and Winchester. For the State Senate, focus on the same area. Map A5 makes sense for my community. For the House, I support the Virginia Counts Coalition map.” While not disagreeing with other speakers regarding compact districts, Lara wanted to draw attention to other communities not represented.
Mark Heinicke, of Greene County, expressed appreciation for the Commission’s efforts. He noted that he had previously submitted comments by email and on maps. Senate District 31 (on both maps) should consist of Albemarle, Fluvanna, Green, and Nelson Counties and Charlottesville, which would be within the Thomas Jefferson Planning District. Buckingham is not in this planning district. Heinicke identified the heart of District 31 as Charlottesville, with extensive surburban development in the identified counties. U.S. 29 connects these counties South and North, but doesn’t go to Buckingham. Regarding House maps, B4 seems most logical.
Pete Costigan of Ruckersville in Green County, supports Slaughter regarding Augusta County, and Bob West on competitive districts. His recommendations include: B6 Senate map: take Augusta out of 81 and replace with Greene County; Augusta should be with Rockingham County in district 69. Page County is separated by mountains from Greene, so Costigan objects to this grouping. Greene County has more in common with Albemarle (vs. Page or Rockingham), with a significant number of residents working, shopping, and seeking medical care in Albemarle.
Moving on to other areas of the state, we heard from residents of Henrico County, Richmond, Farmville, and on other topics.
Brittany Rose lives in Henrico Co, currently House District 56. Henrico is suburgan with significant growth. It “doesn’t make sense to be with rural counties.” House map B6 “doesn’t make sense.” The population in this part of Henrico is 22% Asian; however some of the maps reduce the Asian population to 8-11 %. Map B6 carves out part of the county, pairing this part of Henrico with Goochland County (rural) and reducing the Asian population. In contact, map A7 “District 70 keeps the community entirely Henrico” for 23% Asian population. This better represents the community in all measures. Regarding the Senate, Rose currently lives in District 12, which is largely intact in Senate map B4 as District 30, which is pretty similar to earlier map C2. Senate map A5 changes configuration to include Goochland and Powhatan, splitting Henrico into 3 Senate districts, which doesn’t make sense.
Megan Rickman, a senior at Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) in Richmond, is a redistricting fellow with the Campus Vote project. VCU needs representatives who will “listen to our voices” and to speak for us. VCU is a diverse community in the heart of Richmond. Students are confused about who represents them since VCU campus and surrounding community are currently divided among districts. VCU should be considered a Community of Interest. Maps should ensure that the entire campus is represented by the same elected officials. After all, she said, “college and university students are statistically the most likely populations to engage in future elections,” and we want to nurture them to become lifelong voters.
Chris DeRosa of Arlington was pleased to see some college/university campuses united in single house districts on many of the proposed maps. For example, Christopher Newport University in Newport News is currently split between two House districts. Her daughters, who attended CNU, would have had to change their voter registration status and engage with a different Delegate when they moved across the street to East campus housing. Similarly, University of Mary Washington in Fredericksburg is currently divided into two House districts and 3 local magisterial wards. It is “better to be united”, which allows students and staff to speak as one voice. “As you move forward to finalize maps to present to the General Assembly, please look at all college campuses in Virginia to make sure they and the surrounding community are kept together.”
Monica Hutchinson, a resident of Henrico County wanted to “reiterate what others have said.” It’s “extremely important that we protect black voters and voters of color when we draw these maps. Virginia has been leading the way when it comes to fair and proper free elections.” That’s not my concern – my concern “is ensuring that our collective voices are heard by all elected officials.” “Protect the black community and communities of color when it comes to drawing these maps. We know historically that this has not been done.”
Edward Strickler of Farmville is a lifelong Virginia resident who grew up in Rockingham County with his family. He wanted to speak up for “rural folks” in Rockingham, rural Albemarle and Prince Edward Counties. He served on many state, local and regional bodies to raise concerns of rural areas, especially in public health. He seeks equity, which he defined as “the fair sharing of benefits and burdens.” Rural Virginia “structurally receives the short end of the stick – fewer benefits, more burdens,” due to “political machinations over decades”. This is true for the “rural working class , especially those of color.” “When we want to protect brown, black, and multiracial people, we must ensure equity for rural voters.”
Ken Chasin discussed Congressional District 5, which was mentioned by a couple of other speakers. He asked that CD 5 be redrawn. CD 5 is “severely gerrymandered”; it’s larger in area than six other states and stretches from the North Carolina border into Northern Virginia. Two thirds is rural, 1/3 urban, with a Republican tilt. It needs to be redrawn to reduce the square mileage and for more equitable rural-urban distribution.
Finally, Bob West cited his work on redistricting in Florida before moving to Norfolk. He said that the maps he submitted (Senate 137 and House 162) are better on several measures, including most competitive, most compact, the number of majority-minority districts, and population deviation. His maps are “superior and defensible in court.”
LWV-VA Observer Corps –
Candy Butler, LWV-FX
Carolyn Caywood, LWV-SHR
Peggy Layne, LWV-MC