James Abrenio, former Virginia Redistricting Commission member, reflects on the work of the Commission – Interview with BlueVirginia.com
On July 15, The Virginia Redistricting Commission (VRC) held its first virtual public hearing, focusing on the West Central Region of Virginia, as defined by the University of Virginia Weldon Cooper Center Demographic Regions Map (cities: Lynchburg, Radford, Roanoke, Salem; counties: Amherst, Appomattox, Bedford, Botetourt, Campbell, Craig, Floyd, Franklin, Giles, Montgomery, Pulaski, Roanoke).
There were intermittent connectivity issues with several registered speakers, but the Commission staff worked through them so that everyone was able to present their views.
Of those who spoke, five discussed the economic and educational triangle described by Blacksburg, Christiansburg and Radford in Montgomery County. They all agreed that this area, and also the county, is a clear community of interest. Peggy Layne, a member of the League of Women Voters, said “…it would be better served if the county, to the extent possible, had the same representative. “
Matthew Gabriele, a former member of the Montgomery County Board of Supervisors, agreed with earlier speakers, stating, “I hope this Redistricting Commission will remedy a longstanding wrong in the way that southwestern Virginia has been treated in which it has been carved up unnaturally to the detriment of our citizens.”
They highlighted the current representation: Montgomery County is currently split among three state delegate districts (7th, 8th and 12th). And it is split among three state senate districts (19th, 21st, and 38th).
The people who spoke about Lynchburg reinforced the views of speakers at the July 13, 2021, hearing at Longwood University: Lynchburg would be better served being represented as a single community of interest.
Carla Heath advocated for the Commission to draw the lines so that Lynchburg is represented by one delegate and one state senator. In closing, she said, “Serving on the inaugural redistricting commission, you have the potential to make Virginia a Fair Maps state.”
Jeffrey Rosner observed that under current legislative districts, Lynchburg is a victim of gerrymandering, “chopped up four ways”. He continued, saying, “This gives the Commission an opportunity”, that if Lynchburg is put in one delegate district and one state senate district, it would “send a positive message” that gerrymandering is eliminated, increase public confidence in the redistricting process and also “will create a district which better represents a community of interest with greater influence for the more urban and more racially diverse city of Lynchburg.”
The final speaker, William Bestpitch, a member of the Roanoke City Council, requested that Roanoke be included in a single delegate district. He explained that all elections for mayor, city council and constitutional offices are conducted at large. Eight of Roanoke’s 20 precincts are split between the 11th and 17th districts. He concluded by requesting that the Commission follow Roanoke’s current precinct lines when drawing legislative districts.
Chair Babichenko concluded the hearing by encouraging the public to continue to send emails with thoughts and suggestions about redistricting to the Commission. “We are reading them; we will consider all of them…just because you didn’t attend today doesn’t mean you’re missing out.”
The hearing began at 2:00 pm and adjourned at 2:37 pm after hearing from all but one of the registered speakers.
The following Commissioners attended the hearing: Mackenzie Babichenko, Greta Harris, James Abrenio, Richard Harrell, Brandon Hutchins, Del. Adams, Sen. McDougle, Sen. Newman, Del. Simon.
The public hearings are being livestreamed and saved for future viewing the VRC YouTube channel.
– Candace Butler, LWV-Fairfax