by Fran Larkins and Chris DeRosa, Co-Coordinators LWV-VA Redistricting Committee
(With contributions, of course, from all the Redistricting Observer Corps members)
Many Virginia League of Women Voters members worked very hard to ensure passage of the Constitutional Amendment establishing the Virginia Redistricting Commission.
In the fall of 2019, President Deb Wake asked Chris DeRosa (Arlington) to co-chair a Redistricting Committee and to coordinate the LWVUS People Powered Fair Maps (PPFM) efforts in Virginia. We soon realized our work didn’t end in November 2020 when two-thirds of Virginians voted “Yes!” on the constitutional amendment. Fran Larkins (Fredericksburg) joined Chris as co-coordinator and a core group of the committee became an Observer Corps to monitor the Redistricting Commission. Sara Fitzgerald (Falls Church), an experienced blogger, worked with Nancy Priddy (Richmond) in January to set up a blog on the League website. Our first post as “watchdogs” reported on the selection of Commissioners.
Since then, we have taken turns writing detailed notes of all meetings of the Commission and its two subcommittees, as well as all public hearings, in-person and virtual. So far, we have covered 21 Commission and subcommittee meetings and four public hearings. Every meeting is summarized and posted on the blog within a few hours of adjournment. These blogs help members and the greater public, as well as Division of Legislative Services’ staff and Commissioners, quickly gain information and insight into the meetings and hearings.
The Redistricting Observer Corps includes “veteran” League members Carolyn Caywood (South Hampton Roads) and Sara Fitzgerald who was involved with updating the Virginia League study on redistricting reform in 2015. The fight for redistricting reform brought others to join the Virginia League for the first time – Chris DeRosa and Candy Butler (Fairfax) in 2017, Fran Larkins in 2019, and Peggy Layne (Montgomery County), joined just last year. All were looking for a way to make a difference!
The various backgrounds and skills of the Redistricting Observer Corps make for a strong team. These include Sara Fitzgerald’s journalist career with the Washington Post whose speed at writing is amazing and an example for us all. Chris DeRosa, our inspiring and tireless leader, is a M. Ed retired special education teacher and Peggy Layne is a retired engineer and higher education administrator. We’re grateful for her enjoyment of the “nitty gritty of data and map drawing.” Two librarians are a natural for the team – Carolyn Caywood, retired from the Virginia Beach Public Library, and Fran Larkins, former librarian with the Congressional Research Service of the Library of Congress. The Corps is also a perfect fit for Candy Butler, a political science/journalism graduate of Syracuse University and a Capitol Hill staffer of 34 years. We are so grateful she “jumped on the moving train.”
Corps members admit to being redistricting “geeks” and support each other at busy hearings by “filling) in the gaps if a name or detail is missed.” An added bonus is “we enjoy a lot of camaraderie as we watch the meetings and hearings online, while texting to each other as if we were all together.” The work is truly rewarding and “to top it all off, it’s fun!”
Covering the Commission over the next few months is going to be increasingly time-consuming and, if you would like to join our team, we’d welcome your energy.