No more Dr. Nice Guy?
Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam, known for his kindly family-doctor demeanor, is hanging tough when it comes to Virginia redistricting.
He’s said he will veto the House of Delegates’ most recent plan to redress racial gerrymandering in House districts as ordered by a court, saying bluntly that he prefers a court-appointed expert to draw new voting district lines rather than the Republican-dominated House.
Meanwhile, Mr. Northam also announced he was canceling his appearance at a fundraiser for Del. Stephen Heretick, D-Portsmouth, who broke with party leaders in the redistricting debate. The governor’s office said the change was due to a scheduling conflict, but some political watchers interpret it as a reprimand to Mr. Heretick.
As a result of Mr. Northam’s veto decision, House Speaker Kirk Cox has canceled plans to call the delegates back into session on Oct. 21 to take another whack at redistricting. He said there was no point wasting taxpayer money on an attempt at a legislative resolution that the governor has pre-judged as unacceptable.
Having previously invalidated several districts in the eastern part of the state for condensing black votes into some districts, thus diluting voters’ power elsewhere, the court apparently will have to step in again.
To prevail, General Assembly Republicans would have to muster the votes to override Mr. Northam’s veto. Speaker Cox’s cancellation of the Oct. 21 session likely indicates that the votes simply aren’t there; Republicans hold only a 50-49 advantage in the House of Delegates.
Lawmakers had seen three different redistricting plans.
One of them was introduced by Albemarle County Del. Rob Bell. That version technically was left on the table when the upcoming session was canceled.
Another had been proposed by Del. Lamont Bagby, D-Henrico, but was rejected by the Republican majority. Both the Bagby and Bell plans had dumped some incumbents into the same district, pitting them against each other and effectively ending the loser’s tenure — although Mr. Bell had said he would correct his map to eliminate that conflict.
A third proposal, however, was approved by the House, this one introduced by Appropriations Committee Chairman Chris Jones, R-Suffolk. Mr. Jones had hoped his version would win support of some Democrats — and it did.
But with the governor’s announcement of an intended veto — and, more to the point, the speaker’s cancellation of another session to address redistricting one last time — that hint of bipartisanship is ended.
Initially, even Democrats were fragmented over the veto statement, with some saying there was really no choice but to support Mr. Northam and at least one — Sen. Lionell Spruill Sr., D-Chesapeake, who is African-American — suggesting that the governor was sacrificing a potentially decent deal for black voters in exchange for the possibility of winning more seats for Democrats in general in the court’s version of redistricting.
House Minority Leader David Toscano, D-Charlottesville, is one of those who said he supports the governor’s stand.
It was a long shot, we admit, but we had hoped that Republicans and Democrats would set aside partisanship and arrive at a legitimate redistricting plan that would satisfy the court and serve the voters.
An opportunity had been provided for both parties to prove their commitment to putting the voters first.
Instead, the issue has fractured along party lines. That’s disappointing — but, in these days and times, far too predictable.