RICHMOND — Gov. Bob McDonnell may be planning to propose a bipartisan commission to advise him on the upcoming redistricting process, political analyst Bob Holsworth said Tuesday, citing a source close to the governor.
“For the first time, we would actually see a governor receiving advice on redistricting from an official bipartisan commission,” Holsworth said at the Associated Press’ annual gathering of reporters and key policymakers in Richmond.
McDonnell, a Republican, promised on the campaign trail to form a bipartisan redistricting commission of Virginia residents who have not held elected office for at least 10 years, with a nonpartisan chairman.
His press secretary, Stacey Johnson, however, dodged the question of whether McDonnell will establish a bipartisan commission as the General Assembly and the governor redraw Virginia’s political boundaries of the House of Delegates, state Senate and Congress after new U.S. Census numbers are released in February.
“The governor will work with Republicans and Democrats, and enlist greater public input to ensure that a more open approach is taken to the redistricting process,” Johnson wrote in an e-mail.
Bipartisan or nonpartisan redistricting has long been a goal of good-government advocates, who say partisan redistricting — in which the majority party controls the process — can lead to fewer competitive districts, lower voter turnout, and a deeper partisan divide among legislators.
Sen. Janet Howell, D-Fairfax County, dismissed the possibility of McDonnell’s bipartisan redistricting commission as “absurd on its face.”
McDonnell, she said, has shown little interest in bipartisan redistricting in the past, pointing out that the governor did not help when the Democratic-led Senate passed a bill to establish a bipartisan redistricting commission only to see it killed in a partisan vote in the House.
“The governor had that opportunity last session when we sent over a bill with overwhelming support,” Howell said. “He chose not to participate at all.”
Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli also appeared at Tuesday’s event, which was co-hosted at the Capitol by the Associated Press and the Virginia Capitol Correspondents Association.
Cuccinelli also addressed the issue of redistricting, saying he thought it was time for Virginia to be released from its federally mandated oversight by the U.S. Department of Justice under the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
Under that law, Virginia’s redistricting plan every 10 years must be “pre-cleared” by the Justice Department, which is meant to ensure that Southern states are not discriminating against racial minorities with their new political boundaries.
Cuccinelli, however, said Virginia has “outgrown” that requirement, as the state — which he acknowledged originated Massive Resistance — is no longer marked by institutionalized bigotry.
“I think as a state, as a commonwealth, we have outgrown that,” he said. “We have grown as a commonwealth a great deal in my lifetime.”
Cuccinelli said such a change would not be possible for next year’s redistricting process, but he would like to see Congress remove the requirement from the Voting Rights Act before Virginia’s redistricting process in 10 years.
Cuccinelli added that he believes a separate provision of the Voting Rights Act that allows anyone to challenge Virginia’s redistricting process in court if they believe it discriminates against minorities is sufficient.
Cuccinelli’s suggestion that Virginia should no longer be subject to the Justice Department’s oversight on redistricting was condemned by newly elected Democratic Party of Virginia Chairman Brian Moran.
“Ken Cuccinelli’s claim that Virginia no longer has any need for oversight of our redistricting process is not only ignorant, it’s downright dangerous,” Moran said in a statement. “Too many Virginians fought for too long for equal representation for our attorney general to put his near-pathological aversion to government ahead of their civil rights by removing the safeguards that ensure the integrity of our political system.”