With the General Assembly now meeting, Democrats find themselves in control of all statewide offices, the state Senate and the House of Delegates. In the House, specifically, Democrats have a majority that they managed to win without losing a single seat gained in the blue wave of 2017.
At the congressional level, Republicans held eight out of the 11 House of Representatives seats at the start of the decade; Democrats now hold seven of those 11 seats.
Virginia has turned blue.
In the face of this victory against long odds, Virginia Democrats are right to feel that their approach to governance has been vindicated by the voters. But they face a risk to their credibility in this first legislative session.
Specifically, Virginia Democrats must follow through with their promise to end the practice of legislators drawing their own districts and pass the proposed constitutional amendment that would create a 16-member advisory commission to draw Assembly and congressional maps.
And there’s plenty of high-profile public support behind the amendment as well. From highly respected advocacy organizations to public polling to newspaper editorials from every corner of the commonwealth, Virginians have made their voices clear: They want the General Assembly to finish the job and pass the amendment a second time.
Consider this very publication, where on Dec. 6, 2019, The Daily Progress editorial proclaimed that “Virginia Democrats have the opportunity to prove whether they’re principled — or just partisan,” going on to say that “opposing reform is simply wrong — and especially so if Virginia Democrats behave as hypocrites on this important issue.”
What’s more, organizations like the ACLU of Virginia, the Virginia League of Women Voters, Virginia FREE, the Brennan Center for Justice, Common Cause, FairVote and Princeton University’s nonpartisan Gerrymandering Project all agree that this is the most viable and substantive way forward in the commonwealth.
Further, two recent polls show overwhelming public support for passage of the amendment, with 70% of registered Virginia voters backing the measure in a recent CNU-Wason Center poll and 72% supporting it in a Mason-Dixon survey.
In short, Virginia Democrats will find many allies when it comes time to vote on this amendment again.
But if Virginia’s incoming legislative majority proceeds to turn its collective back on its promise to finally end the practice of partisan gerrymandering, it will start the new decade by squandering the goodwill and support of voters from across the commonwealth — support that has taken a decade to gain.
If Democrats walk back their initial support of the constitutional amendment, it also would mean that, yet again, Virginia citizens would be left out of the process of drawing of their own legislative districts.
To give citizens a voice, the amendment would require that eight of the 16 seats on the redistricting commission are held by citizens not holding public office, selected by a panel of retired state judges and hewing to a suite of conflict of interest rules.
As we begin a new General Assembly session, Virginia Democrats have a lot to be proud of. They have built a progressive movement in Virginia with record rates of voter turnout. And they have done it by listening to voters, responding to their concerns and promising to make Virginia’s government more democratic.
Now, they should follow through on those promises, and bring an end to the partisan gerrymandering once and for all.