A Mix of Comments from the Shenandoah Valley and Beyond

The 7th of eight public hearings on the draft legislature maps was chaired by citizen commissioner Mackenzie Babichenko. Once again, translators were available if needed.   Six citizen commissioners and seven legislator commissioners were present to listen to public comments.

Speakers spoke about a variety of topics, including maps for the Valley Region, minority representation, partisan gerrymandering, and the district numbering system. 

Timothy Jost of Rockingham County described House map B6, district 72 as “good”, combining a mix of urban/suburban and rural areas.  Currently this area is divided into four different House districts, which is very confusing.  Education, manufacturing and retail are important in the “lower eastern part” whereas the upper part of Rockingham is more rural with important agriculture, poultry and cattle industries.  House map B6, district 69 could be improved by moving district 72 to the east, and taking the western part of 72 and adding it to 69.  This revised District 72 would be over 40% non-white, so it could be considered an opportunity district.  Jost mentioned support of Janet Trettner’s remarks regarding renumbering districts so that House, Senate and Congressional map numbers would not be duplicated.

Leslie Tate is aware of communities and land use development patterns as a senior planner in community development in Augusta County, and leader of the local redistricting efforts.  She approved of Senate maps which keeps Augusta County whole.  She would like to see one House district for Augusta County as well.  Draft  B5 and B6 maps for the House places northeast Augusta communities with Albemarle in district 81.  These communities are separated by a mountain; they are different in many ways.  She cited American Community Survey data that shows higher household income and higher education attainment in Albemarle, and less employment in manufacturing.  “The A maps put NE Augusta with Rockingham, which is preferred because they are linked by transportation routes, share many socio-economic factors, and together form one of the largest agricultural regions of the state.  Going back to B5 and B6 maps, she criticized the north-south split – communities are not conveniently separated by this split.  A maps are better for Augusta County.

Edgar Lara, a member of multiple statewide coalitions, focused on Winchester where he has family.  Like other valley communities, Winchester has a growing immigrant community – currently it is split into three districts.  He would like it to be kept whole.   Going on to Waynesboro, where he has lived for 20 years, he stated that Senate A5 map makes sense for Staunton, Harrisonburg and Waynesboro.  For the House, he prefers the “Virginia Counts Coalition” map.  He would like to see a more compact Congressional district for the northern Valley region.

Allen Louderback, a former Delegate who participated in the last redistricting cycle, expressed appreciation for the Commission’s hard work.  He wants to keep districts as compact as possible so there will be less confusion.  When he was a delegate, voters were confused because the district he represented had small parts of Winchester City and Frederick County.  He has a concern about the Senate B4 map which has District 26 broken up into segments.  He said it makes more sense to keep it as is instead of splitting it up.  Page has nothing in common with Frederick and Loudoun Counties, he said, yet they are combined in one district on one map.  He concluded by saying he doesn’t want to see “salamanders.”

Peter Van Acker said he had “nothing brilliant to say,” but encouraged the Commission to remain apolitical and to respect cultural and geographical boundaries as much as possible.  “That’s why people supported this commission.”  He would have preferred to have no politicians on the Commission.   He echoed concerns expressed by Ms. Tate about Augusta County, Staunton, Wayneboro and Greene County.

Other speakers addressed maps for other areas of the state.  Some commented on map numbers, political fairness, and minority representation.

Janet Trettner of Keezletown (Rockingham County), wanted to make three points.  First, she said, the district numbering system is confusing – all House, State Senate, and Congressional districts start with the number 1; thus, many districts have the same “name” or number, rather than a distinct name/number.  For example, Rockingham County has House and Senate districts identified as #26.  Her suggestion to the Commission is to start with 1 for Congressional districts (1-11), 100 for House districts (100-199), and 200 for State Senate districts (200-239).   Continuing on, Trettner said,  “As much as we like our neighbors to the east, mountains separate Rockingham and Albemarle.  Current maps cross the mountains.”  She echoed Mr. Jost’s comments about District 69.  She stated that Harrisonburg and surrounding areas are one community and should be kept together. 

Cathy Hosek of the Mt. Vernon Council of Citizen Associations (MVCCA) (Fairfax County) described her neighborhood as eastern Fairfax between Rt 1 and the Potomac River.  Both House maps A7 and B6 split her community in different ways.  She would like to see a district that extends south from Alexandria City to Ft. Belvoir.  The Rt. 1 corridor is developing into a “main street” instead of functioning as a commuter route.   She stated that the city of Alexandria has “nothing in common” with the Alexandria portion of Fairfax County which should not be grouped in a district with the city.

Richard Zimmerman expressed appreciation for the public service of the Commissioners. Describing himself as a 50-year voter, 7-year resident of Harrisonburg, and a public school teacher, he suggested that map drawers consider school district boundaries since people choose to live in communities where their children will be educated.  “People move into school districts, not precincts,” he explained.  He began to refer to language differences, “Russian-speaking and German-speaking” populations when his screen froze.  He did not rejoin the zoom to complete his remarks.

Miranda Galindo, senior counsel for the Latino Justice PRLDEF  (Puerto Rican Legal Defense & Education Fund) Southeast Region Office, provided information about the growing Latino population in Virginia.  She said she is closely monitoring the redistricting process to protect Latino rights and Latino communities of interest.  She noted that the Latino population in Virginia has increased 44% during the past decade.  There are now a quarter-million Spanish-speaking people living in every area of Virginia; that equals 11% of Virginia’s total population.  Arlington and Alexandria have experienced substantial population growth; Manassas and the Prince William area population increased by 30%; Dale City + 45%; Richmond +85% increase.  From Richmond to Virginia Beach, the average increase in Latino population is 65%.  The Commission “must not ignore or divide this population”, which is “younger than most populations.”  They should “be able to participate in the process without language barriers.”  She applauded the recent availability of translators, but it was too late, and she heard complaints about not being allowed enough time (about 1 extra minute) for translations.  PRLDEF is monitoring federal law compliance regarding language access and opportunities for minorities to elect candidates of their choice.

David Sparkman, a newspaper publisher in Frederick County, suggested that they needed to look at the “length of boundaries to avoid gerrymandering.”  He stated that he’s “hearing a lot about protecting minorities; that is not American, we are integrating society and need to look for contested elections, not protection.”  He suggested that these maps are a “protection racket” to protect elected officials, which is “not the way American works.”  “Politicians are temporary” as “America changes opinions.”  He suggested that we should “build a structure system into the future.” 

Nancy Almasi lives in the Alexandria portion of Fairfax County. She voted in support of the commission, “believing that citizens would provide checks and balances on elected officials, but all I hear about is how maps are drawn on racial and political lines.”  She asked the Commission to “focus on what unites us; draw districts with commonalities.”  “More competitive districts means we elect better leaders,” which is “a win for everyone.”

Scott Filling of Fauquier County, stated that Senate map B4 “favors Democrats,” and that lots of districts were drawn “for no other purpose than politics.”  He agreed with comments today about racial gerrymandering, and cautioned that the Commission needs to “take a slow long look at the process for fair and equal terms for growth of all ethnic groups,” and the need for “fair treatment for all.”

Melissa Beaudoin of Mason district in Fairfax County, a former elected official and political scientist, is “looking for the Commission to embrace fairness.”  When she saw maps that increased the number of “Democratic districts from 30 to 37,” she felt she had to speak up “against unjust gerrymandering.”  She criticized Senate map B4 and House map B6 as favoring Democrats, creating districts “for politics.”  She described Senate District 32 as a “winged dinosaur” drawn “from Halifax to Goochland to pack Republicans.”  She criticized Arlington and Alexandria as “split more than necessary to spread Democrat votes.”  She described the House map as “repugnant.” 

Erin Corbett of the VCET (Virginia Civic Engagement Table) has learned, through her work with coalition partners, that there is a lot of “misunderstanding of the Voting Rights Act (VRA) and “packing and cracking.”  She was concerned about comments regarding the “interpretation of the VRA for protecting communities of color.”  “If you are watching and listening,” you will know that “ensuring that communities of color can elect candidates of their choice is not partisan.” She reminded listeners that VCET is nonpartisan and nonpolitical. 

You may view proposed maps submitted by Commission map drawers and citizens and groups.  You may also comment on the maps.

Commission meetings and hearings can be found on the Commission website.  All meetings are “open to the public” – the public may attend in person or virtually.

The Commission plans to meet on Friday, October 8, Saturday, October 9 (tentative), and Monday, October 11 to finalize maps for the House of Delegates and State Senate.

 

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