We Were There! Citizens Selected for Redistricting Commission
As members of the Virginia LWV, we eagerly anticipated the opportunity to “be present” as the Redistricting Commission Selection Committee met January 6 to select eight citizen members for the new Virginia Redistricting Commission.
With the assistance of the Virginia Division of Legislative Services (DLS), the five retired judges on the Selection Committee were able to Zoom from their homes across Virginia. Members of the Committee were the Honorable David Pugh and the Honorable Joanne F. Alper appointed by Democratic legislative leaders and the Honorable William C. Andrews, III and the Honorable Larry B. Kirksey appointed by Republican legislative leaders. The Committee Chair, The Honorable Pamela Baskervill, was chosen by those four judges. Also present was Amigo Wade, Director of the Virginia Division of Legislative Services.
Each of the five judges had previously received copies of the 62 citizen applications after they were narrowed down by the four legislative leaders from more than 1200 applications.
The names of the applicants forwarded by each of the four legislative leaders are available on the Division of Legislative Services Web site on pages 5 – 8 of “Meeting Materials.”
9 a.m. The meeting started streaming live with a few “housekeeping” details and ensuring that all the judges were connected through Zoom before discussion of the applicants began.
Chair, Judge Baskerville initiated a discussion of the best process for consideration of the applicants. After several suggestions, it was decided they would attempt to choose the top four from each legislator’s list which would “whittle” the list down some. Judge Kirksey said he was “amazed at the diversity, energy, and brilliance of the applicants. You four can help me figure this out.” Judge Baskerville noted, “This is a dynamic process and once we start it will fall into place.” The consensus was to disclose personal knowledge of any of the applicants and consider potential disqualifiers when the names were raised. Preference was also for using the term “eligibility” rather than “disqualifier.”
The Selection Committee then began discussion of the 16 applicants that had been put forward by Speaker Eileen Filler-Corn and each judge read the names they felt deserved further consideration from this list. This was followed by disclosure and rulings on eligibility if any.
Personal Knowledge of Applicants – Judge Alper noted that she knew Mr. Kumar when he worked for the court. He was one of the applicants she put forward.
Eligibility – The judges ruled unanimously that Patricia Merrill’s gubernatorial appointment to the Library Board would not disqualify her. (It was later corrected that the applicant who served on the Library Board was Morrison, not Merrill. This error happened because the lines on the spreadsheet were very compressed.)
Of the names on Speaker Filler-Corn’s list, Harris and Kumar were put forward by all 5 judges. Hutchins, Merrill, and Stafford were on 3 lists.
Chair Judge Baskervill noted that these five applicants were diverse in age, three male and two female, representing four regions, and including minorities. She recommended the Committee select these five and move on to the next list.
In alphabetical order, the list forwarded by Delegate C. Todd Gilbert was presented next. In a similar manner, each judge read the names of those they felt deserved further consideration, followed by disclosure and rulings on eligibility.
A question was raised that Feliciano’s application gave “MI” as the abbreviation for his state. All other responses on his application, however, indicated he is a Virginia resident, and it was acceptable.
It was “reluctantly” ruled by all five Judges that Ortego was not eligible to serve because his wife had been employed by a Member of Congress in 2006. Judge Alper said it is a “shame” but “we are obligated to follow the statute.” Judge Kirksey mentioned he knew of two other instances where a citizen was not eligible to apply because of the long “look back” period for spouses.
Judge Andrews recommended also using five from Delegate Gilbert’s list and since there were now four names remaining eligible that were on at least three of the judge lists these were moved forward. (Babichenko, Bolander, Hatfield, and Heffernan)
10 a.m. 5-minute recess
After recess, the list from Senator Louise Lucas was the third to be considered.
Personal knowledge of applicants – Judge Kirksey noted that he has seen Frith in his court and had participated in mediation with her. She was one of the applicants he forwarded.
Judge Alper noted that James Abrenio’s older brother has been one of their law clerks 15 years ago and she had seen Abrenio in court.) James Abrenio was one of the candidates forwarded by Judge Alper.
The judges did not see Kimball Brace as ineligible. He was not employed by the advisory committee.
They ruled that Ashley Marshall’s two gubernatorial appointments did not make her ineligible.
Jeffrey Sachs was ruled by all to be ineligible, however, because of past legislative employment.
Because one of these applicants (Kumar) had already been moved forwarded on Speaker Filler-Corn’s list, only Abrenio was on all five of the judges’ lists. There were, however, five eligible applicants that had been on at least two of the judges’ lists – Brace, Braxton, Marshall, Keisha Smith, and Williams. These 6 were moved forward for further consideration.
The list forwarded by Senator Thomas Norment was the last of the four alphabetically to be considered.
All judges agreed that the eligibility of Gilliam and Harrell was not impacted by their service on the University of Virginia and Virginia Economic Development Boards.
There was just one applicant (Bolander) that was on all five judges’ lists, and there were six applicants that were on three judges’ lists (Babichenko, Gilliam, Harrell, Heffernan, Rinaldi, and Shelly Smith). These seven were all moved forwarded.
10:50 a.m. Initial consideration of the applicants by the Selection Committee was completed.
Judge Kirksey commented “Where do we go from here? We have to be mindful of the diversity requirements.” Judge Alper requested a list organized by region and the Division of Legislative Services agreed they would be able to provide this after a break.
11:25 a.m. After a short break, the Committee resumed its meeting.
Chair, Judge Baskervill asked “what jumped out” at them from the list of 19 applicants. She noted that there are two regions with only one candidate in each. Judge Alper pointed out that their list did not include any Hispanic candidates.
The Committee then addressed each area of diversity beginning with geographic. The Division of Legislative Services (DLS) provided a list of the 19 “finalists”, sorted by region on page 16 of “Meeting Materials.”
Judge Kirksey pointed out that the Eastern region has no applicants among the 19 names. Chair, Judge Baskervill noted, however, that there are only 2 applicants from the entire pool from that region. This was followed by discussion as to whether the Selection Committee felt it necessary to have one person from each of the eight regions. The statute does not mention the regions that were used by DLS for the spreadsheets. It was also felt that to have someone from each region would limit their debate to some extent. Judge Alper commented “I didn’t think of the state in that way. We have a broad group of people from urban, rural, suburban and all around the state. We don’t have to have one person from each.” Chair, Judge Baskerville asked, “with seven of eight regions represented, is it the consensus that the 23 names on this list provides adequate geographic diversity to move forward and make decisions?” It was agreed 5 – 0. [Amigo Wade clarified that it was 19 individuals as four names appear twice.]
Diversity of Ethnicity:
Moving on to a discussion of ethnicity, Judge Kirksey indicated he was troubled that none of the 19 individuals on this list are Hispanic. Judge Alper agreed and noted there had been five applicants with Hispanic ethnicity on the original lists submitted by the General Assembly leaders.
The judges reviewed the five Hispanic and one Mexican applicants. Only one name, Jose Feliciano, had been initially selected by at least two of the judges (Alper and Pugh). Judge Alper indicated his application had “impressed her.” She pointed out that he was in the Marine Corps for 20 years and is a law enforcement federal agent with the Department of Homeland Security. He also had letters of recommendation from his neighbors and one from Del. Mark Cole. The Committee voted 5 – 0 to add Mr. Feliciano to the list of 19 making it 20 applicants.
The Committee then voted 5-0 that it was satisfied with the ethnic and racial diversity represented on the list of 20.
Judge Kirksey asked about gender diversity of the applicant pool. Chair, Judge Baskervill responded “The 20 names are diverse, but we need to keep this as our goal as we narrow down.” Judge Alper noted that only one applicant on the list is an African American male, while there are several African American females. [I did not hear much more discussion about gender diversity. CD]
The Committee then considered recommendations on how to move forward.
Chair, Judge Baskervill suggested “We don’t have to go straight to the eight. We could move forward and then move forward again.” Judge Alper commented “When we do pick the eight, there have to be two from each leader; have to tie each category back to the four lists.” After a brief pause, she further suggested they go thru each list and look at those who got the most support on each list. “There was a reason four or five of us thought this person was strong.”
There was discussion that the language of the statute prioritized some things and they had limited applicants to achieve those. An example was given that there were only two applicants from Southside and Southwest, both huge regions. Gilliam and Harrell were white male and on Senator Norment’s list. If geographically those two names move forward, then by nature we would not consider the other names on his list. Examples of individuals in the group of 20 that fell into required minority categories were Hutchins (black male), Feliciano (Hispanic), and Abrenio (Asian). Sean Kumar was voted to advance by all five judges and is multi-race. Chair, Judge Baskervill reminded the Committee, “Our decisions before were based on applications but now the task is balancing and really applying the terms of the statute.”
Final Discussion of Citizen Applicants
Judge Kirksey asked if there was consensus to at least move Hutchins, Feliciano, Harrell, and Gilliam forward? Chair, Judge Baskerville asked if he would include Abrenio and Kumar in the motion? Judge Kirksey replied “Yes.” The Committee voted unanimously to advance the six applicants to the final list of eight:
· Marvin Gilliam (Bristol/Southwest, white, male, age 64) Norment
· Richard Harrell (South Boston/Southside, white, male, age 74) Norment
· Jose Feliciano (Fredericksburg/North, white, Hispanic, male, age 52) Gilbert
· Brandon Hutchins (VA Beach/Hampton Roads, black or African American, male, age 39) Filler-Corn
· James Abrenio (Fairfax/Northern, Asian, age 37) Lucas
· Sean Kumar (Alexandria/Northern, multi-race, age 41) Lucas
Judge Alper noted that all six are male and Chair, Judge Baskervill said “Yes, that’s where the balance comes in.” She advised “Again, not saying we’re getting to the final eight but agreeing to move the six forward. “The breakdown per legislator was Filler-Corn 1; Gilbert 1; Lucas 2; and Norment 2.
The Committee then discussed the remaining applicants who had received four or five requests for consideration from Committee members: Babichenko (F), Harris (F), Bolander (M)
Because Harris was on everyone’s list, the Committee agreed 5-0 to move forward with Greta Harris (Richmond/Central, Black or African American, female, age 60) Filler-Corn.
DLS’ Amigo Wade indicated the list now consists of seven and he gave the names from each leader’s list.
Chair, Judge Baskervill noted they still needed one more name from Gilbert’s list.
Judge Alper asked “We’re just moving them forward; we’re not making a final decision?” Chair, Judge Baskervill confirmed “Correct, but we need to be sure we have sufficient names to cover all the categories.”
Judge Alper then pointed out that the one missing category was a white female. Discussion then focused on Mackenzie Babichenko from Mechanicsville (Central) who was on Gilbert’s list. Judge Alper commented that Babichenko is in her mid-30s and this would provide a more diverse perspective when the commission meets. Judge Andrews moved that Ms. Babichenko be pushed into the next group (Mechanicsville/Central, white, female, age 36). The Committee agreed 5 – 0.
Chair, Judge Baskervill summarized “Am I correct we now have 8 names to go forward, two from each legislators list?”
Amigo Wade, Division of Legislative Services reported the resulting list of eight applicants by leader.
• Marvin Gilliam and Richard Harrell (Norment)
• Jose Feliciano and Mackenzie Babichenko (Gilbert)
• Brandon Hutchins and Greta Harris (Filler-Corn)
• James Abrenio and Sean Kumar (Lucas)
Chair, Judge Baskervill clarified, “six males and two females? I have three white and five other minority categories.” Judge Alper pointed out “Looking at male, female diversity, only white males from some regions ties our hands a little. You’re never going to please everyone in trying to get the balance of all the diversity.”
There was further discussion among the Committee members.
Chair, Judge Baskerville asked, “Mr. Wade, does this list include 2 from each legislative leader?”
Addressing the five judges – “Are we satisfied with this list, or should we consider others? Does this meet the selection we have been tasked to make?”
After a pause, Judge Kirksey replied “I’ve looked through this list of 20 individuals and the distinctions are very fine . . . I’m satisfied we have ensured the representation of the citizen members will be reflective of the diversity by geography, racial, ethnic and gender as a whole.”
Chair, Judge Baskervill commented that the eight on the list “come from a great pool of candidates.” Several other judges mentioned they enjoyed reading the impressive candidate statements about why they applied to the Commission.
Judge Kirksey then closed, “I don’t want to shorten discussion by any of us but also don’t want to delay a vote if we’re at that stage and I’m prepared to make a motion that we select this slate of eight citizen members to the commission. “
Final Vote of the Selection Committee
Judge Kirksey moved that the Selection Committee accept this list of eight Citizen Commissioners.
Judge Alper seconded the motion.
For the record, Amigo Wade read the eight names one final time and the judges voted unanimously to approve the final list of Citizen Commissioners.
At several times during the morning, the judges thanked the Division of Legislative Services and the legislative leaders who spent an immense amount of time over the holidays with the applications. They also thanked Judge Pamela Baskervill for her efficient and capable management as Chair and offered well wishes to the Citizen Commissioners as they begin their work.
The meeting of the Selection Committee adjourned at 12:35 p.m.
– Fran Larkins, LWV-VA Fredericksburg, and Chris DeRosa, LWV-VA