The Virginia Redistricting Commission’s Budget and Finance Subcommittee decided May 27 to schedule another meeting at the beginning of June to give it more time to review the language of several draft Requests for Proposal for legal services.
Sean Kumar, the subcommittee’s Democratic co-chair, praised the “rock star team” at the Division of Legislative Services for the work it has been doing to support the commission. But subcommittee members received three new draft RFPs right before the start of their meeting, and some wanted more time to review them. Sen. Stephen Newman (R-Forest) said that some would want to do a “deep dive” into the RFP language before the subcommittee provided a recommendation to the full commission at its June 7 meeting. (The subcommittee anticipated scheduling a meeting on June 1 or 2, possibly in the evening this time.)
The new draft RFPs would seek to identify lawyers that could make the case that they could provide non-partisan support to the commission, as well as firms that traditionally work for Democrats or Republicans. At previous meetings, legislative members had said that finding a non-partisan firm would amount to finding a “unicorn.” DLS staff member Brooks Braun, who prepared the drafts, said the commission could decide to send out more than one RFP. The draft RFPs start on page 8 of this document. Braun added that if commissioners had a vision of how they would work with partisan counsel, that could be included in the RFP. DLS staff said the RFP would be placed on its website and on the state’s regular procurement website, but that copies could also be sent to lawyers who might be interested in doing the work or who had represented the legislative caucuses in the past.
Kumar continued to express his concern about the optics and expense of hiring two partisan counsels. In response to his questions, it was explained that in the last two redistricting cycles, the legislative caucuses had paid for hiring their legal support. Kumar questioned whether the commission could, in fact, hire counsel representing the political parties. Braun explained that the language of the procurement would make clear that a law firm worked for the commission as a whole, even if was chosen on the basis of its partisan affiliations.
Before the end of the meeting, Newman observed, “The commission will have a vote, and we’re used to winning and losing, and we’ll see where we end up. But ultimately, there is going to be a vote.” Kumar said he agreed.