Virginia Redistricting Commission Seeks Public Comment
The latest maps: Public hearings set for this week; one Senate plan pairs Morrissey, Chase
RICHMOND — Virginia residents get their chance to comment this week on plans to redraw the state's House of Delegates and Virginia Senate districts, and there certainly will not be a shortage of ideas under consideration. One of them is from a group that puts two lighting-rod Senate incumbents into the same district and also would pair two Tri-City localities together for likely the first time in recent history.
Instead of one map each for the House and Senate, the Virginia Redistricting Commission is putting out 21 maps for consumption in a series of virtual public hearings that began Monday and will run through Thursday. The majority of them are original and updated versions of plans submitted by Democratic and Republican consultants to the 16-member bipartisan panel, but there are two citizen-drawn plans also under the microscope.
Here in the Tri-City area, there are themes underlying the parties' proposals. Both of the Senate proposals tend to agree on keeping Petersburg and Hopewell, and portions of Prince George and Chesterfield in one district. They also both put Dinwiddie County into a rural mega-locality Republican-leaning district that would stretch to the Virginia-North Carolina line, but the Democratic plan keeps incumbent Sen. Frank Ruff of Mecklenburg County in place, the Republican plan moves him into another district and creates an incumbent-less district for Dinwiddie County.
Over on the House side, the Democratic and Republican plans differ on how Petersburg, Hopewell and Dinwiddie should be represented. But they do agree that Prince George County should be carved into multiple districts.
Over the weekend, the New Virginia Majority, a political group that advocates for better minority political representation. That one is quite different from what the Democratic and Republican consultants want to see.
The party plans in a nutshell
So, what will Tri-City area residents be commenting on when the virtual public hearing for the central Virginia region is held at 4 p.m. Wednesday?
House of Delegates Democratic plan:
- Hopewell would be plucked from the existing 62nd House District that also includes southeastern Chesterfield and be placed in the same district as Petersburg and the northern portions of Prince George County. The new 62nd would encompass just about all of eastern and southeastern Chesterfield, keeping Coyner as the sole incumbent.
- Prior to the 2019 map drawing by the federal courts, Petersburg and portions of Hopewell were part of the 63rd District. This new map puts all of Hopewell back into incumbent Democratic Del. Lashrecse Aird's district.
- Dinwiddie County and a western portion of Prince George would go into a district where the current incumbent, Republican Del. Tommy Wright, lives in Lunenburg County.
- The rest of Prince George County would go into a district that includes Isle of Wight County, where the current 64th District incumbent, Republican Del Emily Brewer, now lives.
- All of Colonial Heights and portions of central Chesterfield would stay in the existing 66th House District, which will have a new incumbent after next month's House elections.
House of Delegates Republican plan:
- Hopewell would stay where it is with southeastern Chesterfield and be joined by eastern Prince George in Coyner's district.
- All of Petersburg and Dinwiddie would join roughly 22,000 residents in north and central Prince George in Aird's district.
Senate Democratic plan:
- Dinwiddie would become part of a 13-locality mostly rural district that would include some of Prince George while stretching across southside Virginia from Lunenburg to Isle of Wight County. It still would have a Republican tilt and includes current incumbent Sen. Frank Ruff, a Republican.
- Petersburg, Hopewell and about 22,000 people in Prince George would join portions of Chesterfield and Richmond in a Democratic-leaning district protecting current incumbent Sen. Joe Morrissey
- All of Colonial Heights and central Chesterfield would be in one district, a Republican-rich one with current GOP incumbent Sen Amanda Chase
Senate Republican plan:
- It mirrors the Democratic plan with one exception: Dinwiddie's representation. The GOP moves Ruff and Mecklenburg County into another district, and adds Suffolk and Chesapeake as part of Dinwiddie's district.
The plan from the New Virginia Majority would put Colonial Heights into a House district with southeastern Chesterfield and Hopewell, creating the scenario of both an election and a primary involving incumbents.
Should Coyner be re-elected and GOP candidate Mike Cherry of Colonial Heights win in November, they could win up facing off in a Republican primary. If Democratic candidate Katie Sponsler of Colonial Heights beats Cherry in November and Coyner is re-elected, then there is the possibility they could oppose each other in the election for the new district.
There is one more possible House scenario to consider when you reverse the roles. If Democrat Jasmine Gore of Hopewell is victorious over Coyner and Sponsler defeats Cherry, that would set the table for an incumbent-vs.-incumbent Democratic primary. But if Gore and Cherry both win, they could also possibly square off in the new district's election.
The NVM's plan puts Petersburg, Dinwiddie and portions of Chesterfield and Prince George into one House district, which would be a similar look to how the current district has looked for the better part of four decades.
Its map for the state Senate would lump in all of Petersburg, Hopewell and Colonial Heights, plus the surrounding areas of Chesterfield, Dinwiddie and Prince George, into one district. It also lumps two incumbents together — Republican Chase and Democrat Morrissey. Both are considered polarizing political figures whose careers have had their share of controversy
For more information on how to participate in the Oct. 6 public hearing for central Virginia redistricting, go to the Virginia Redistricting Commission's website.
By law, the commission is required to present its finalized plan no later than Oct. 10 to the Virginia General Assembly, who would then vote it up or down in its entirety. Should the plan stall in the legislature, it would go to the courts for a decision.
Veteran journalist Bill Atkinson (he/him/his) is the regional daily news coach for the USA TODAY Network Southeast Region's Unified Central group, which includes Virginia, West Virginia and portions of North Carolina. He is based at The Progress-Index in Petersburg, Virginia. Contact Bill at firstname.lastname@example.org, and follow him on Twitter at @BAtkinson_PI.