February 17, 2009
To my great chagrin, a subcommittee in Virginia's House of Delegates voted against a redistricting bill that had passed the Senate nearly unanimously. It has become an annual ritual, with the lower chamber repeatedly turning down the initiatives. House Majority Leader Morgan Griffith justified the Republican caucus's opposition to this measure by saying "As long as you have human beings doing the job, there will be partisanship involved." See NBC29.com.
Well, it is certainly true that no human being is totally immune from various biases, but that does not mean that proper means to mitigate partisanship can't be devised. The way things stand, legislators redraw district lines to protect their incumbent status, making elections less competitive and therefore less interesting to voters, which in turn results in less citizen involvement in state government, which allows special interests to wield greater power. It's a shame that the Republican-led House wasted yet another opportunity for reforming state government, and if they lose their majority status in the elections this fall, they will come to regret handing that much more power over to the Democrats.
Reforming the redistricting process has long been an issue very near and dear to my heart, and I will have more to say about this in the future. Professor Mark Rush of Washington and Lee University has studied this issue in considerable depth, and has taught an experimental course on the subject.
UPDATE: The AP story in Wednesday's News Leader quoted Del. Shannon Valentine (D-Lynchburg), who said that the current practice of redistricting has caused the divide between parties to become more entrenched, thereby discouraging legislative cooperation. "We have created districts that are so polarized that we don't have to listen to each other and we don't have to work together." (She was a sponsor of the House version of the redistricting bill.) That's another good reason to depoliticize the process, but it is unclear why that pernicious effect would be stronger the House of Delegates more than the state Senate, which is less prone to partisan bickering.