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April 3, 2011 [LINK / comment]

Legislators seek redistricting input (?)

Yesterday morning (Saturday) I went to Verona to attend the public hearings on the 2011 redistricting process. It was one of eight such hearings held in advance of the special redistricting session of the Virginia General Assembly this week. According to the Richmond Times Dispatch (March 19), the hearings are intended "to solicit comments on proposed new boundaries for congressional and legislative districts." (Virginia House of Delegates, the State Senate, and the U.S. House of Representatives.) They were expected to make public the proposed new districts for the before the hearings, but that turned out not to be the case for the congressional districts. In the hearing room, there were stacks of maps with alternative proposals for the House of Delegates and Senate only.

Behind the dais in the front of the room, I counted seven members of the Redistricting Committees of each chamber's Privileges and Elections committees (six for the House and eight for the Senate; see LIS Web site) who were present:

  • Del. Chris Jones (R - Suffolk)
  • Del. Rob Bell (R - Albemarle)
  • Del. Rosalyn Dance (D - Petersburg)
  • Del. Riley Ingram (R - Hopewell)
  • Del. Todd Gilbert (R - Shenandoah)
  • Sen. Harry Blevins (R - Chesapeake)
  • Sen. Mary Margaret Whipple (D - Arlington)

Delegate Chris Jones chaired the meeting, and spoke for a few minutes about the overall objectives of the redistricting process. About two dozen citizens were present in the audience, as well as local delegates Steve Landes and Dickie Bell. I would have expected at least twice that many, but there was apparently very little advance publicity of the hearings. Two gentlemen from northern Rockingham County spoke in opposition to the proposed division of the town of Timberville into separate districts.

Then came my turn to make a statement, and I stated that the purported congressional redistricting plan that has been circulating on the Internet (believed to be a compromise agreed upon by the eleven incumbent members of the U.S. House of Representatives from Virginia) runs counter to the criteria set by the Virginia Constitution. At a time when the Constitution is such a critical issue, it was very important for legislators to observe it in a consistent manner. I explained that I have had my U.S. Government students engage in a classroom exercise to come up with their own redistricting plans, of which I submitted the best one among the three sections. I also submitted my own proposed redistricting plan, including the following text and map:

Article II Section 6 of the Constitution of Virginia states, "Every electoral district shall be composed of contiguous and compact territory* and shall be so constituted as to give, as nearly as practicable, representation in proportion to the population of the district." The proposed congressional districting plan shown below adheres very closely to those requirements, diverging from the mean (727,366) by 1% or less in nearly all cases, and has several other clear advantages that warrant serious consideration.

  • It minimizes the fracturing of local jurisdictions which tends to confuse voters and thereby undermines popular representation. Only the counties of Fairfax, Prince William, Henrico, Chesterfield, and Isle of Wight, and the cities of Richmond and Suffolk, are so divided among more than one district.**
  • It respects natural geography, especially the Blue Ridge.
  • It respects the varied social and cultural characteristics of Virginia, maintaining distinct identities.
  • It provides the Fifth District with an urban center (Lynchburg), the area's commercial hub.
  • Finally, it avoids seeking partisan advantage one way or another, while keeping ten of the eleven incumbent members of the U.S. House of Representatives within their current districts. Rep. Morgan Griffith could be kept within the Ninth District by giving back land in Roanoke County, in exchange for adding Craig County (and possibly part of Franklin County) to the Sixth District.

* Emphasis added. ** Counties and cities are divided on a percentage basis; precincts are not specified.

Virginia Congressional districts 2012 - my proposal

(Roll mouse over the above map to compare my proposal to the current congressional district boundaries.)

I expected that there would be statements or discussion by the committee members, but to my surprise, the meeting adjourned almost immediately after I returned to my seat. Just like that, it was over! I stuck around for a while and chatted with some of the other people, and we all had the sense that the meeting had been mostly for show. It seemed like a waste of time for all those state legislators to have driven so far to get to Augusta County, and then not to say anything more than a few token words.

Reporters from both local newspapers were at the hearing, and as a follow-up to my statement in the hearing, I sent the above proposal along with additional comments to them in an e-mail message later that day. In the Sunday paper, I was quoted in the News Leader:

In my opinion, anyone who agrees to that plan and yet claims to adhere to a strict reading of the state constitution (and presumably, the U.S. Constitution) is a hypocrite. At a time when cynicism about our government is already widespread, especially among many younger people, going ahead with the redistricting plans that seem to be aimed at protecting incumbents will only make things worse. Instead of the people choosing their representatives, the representatives would be choosing their people.

I was also quoted in Sunday's News Virginian:

I am concerned that the very tight schedule may not give the legislators enough time to properly consider all the suggestions that are being made. ... I remain worried that the hearings may be little more than a pro forma exercise to give the appearance of soliciting public input, when in fact the decisions may have already been made.

Perhaps it should not have come as a surprise, but there was no mention of the bipartisan redistricting commission that was set up by Gov. Bob McDonnell; the General Assembly seems determined to ignore any suggestions they make. (I should note that one of the congressional redistricting plans they did bore a certain resemblance to my plan, including moving Lynchburg and Amherst County from the Sixth to the Fifth Districts.) At augustafreepress.com, Del. Ken Plum (D - Reston) lamented the politicized nature of the redistricting process, and discussed the advantages of relying upon an independent commission for that purpose. Maybe, as he suggests, it will happen in 2021 -- but only if enough citizens care enough to demand it.

I engaged in a couple discussions about redistricting on Facebook* recently, and was surprised that some people seem to think the proposed stretched-out Fifth Congressional District (which evidently will extend from the North Carolina border all the way to within 20 miles of Maryland) might fit the definition of "compact." I also noted that "Poor Rep. Hurt will be racking up thousands of miles on his odometer!" Given the high profile of the legal challenge to the health care law, I find it hard to believe that a political leader could be so inconsistent on constitutional principles. The 11th District is extremely gerrymandered, which is fitting for incumbent Rep. Gerry Connolly. It is not the finest hour for representative democracy in America.

* All the time I've been number-crunching and map-drawing has taken away from my Facebook activities lately. I hope to "reemerge" and become sociable once again very soon.


April 10, 2011 [LINK / comment]

U.Va. #1 in college baseball

Congratulations to the University of Virginia Cavaliers baseball team for climbing to the number one spot in college baseball. The highlight of their spectacular season thus far (31-3 overall record) has been the perfect game thrown by Will Roberts on March 29, as the Cavs beat George Washington University 2-0. It was "the eighth nine-inning perfect game in Division I baseball since 1957 and the first since 2002." (Washington Post) Unfortunately, the Cavs' 12-game winning streak ended today when Georgia Tech beat them 10-8, in Atlanta. Virginia is in a neck-and-neck race with Vanderbilt (30-3) for the nation's #1 spot. (ESPN)

Ten days before that perfect game, on March 19, I drove over to Charlottesville to see the Cavaliers in action against Florida State, which was then ranked #4 in the nation. U.Va. had won the night before in an 11-inning game, and wouldn't you know it, they did the exact same thing when my wife and I were there. The hero of the Saturday afternoon game was Jared King, who hit a walk-off home run to left-center field the bottom of the 11th inning, not far from where we were sitting. Talk about a thrilling way to end a game! Final score: U.Va. 5, Florida State 4; that was Virginia's 13th consecutive victory at the time. (virginiasports.com)

Weather conditions were perfect for taking pictures that day, so I added some photos to the Davenport Field page.

Davenport Field grand view

Davenport Field, on March 19. On the left is Klöckner Stadium (soccer and lacrosse) and on the right is University Hall, the old basketball arena.

Foro Sol update

Consider this a belated April Fool's stadium update joke: Chase Field Foro Sol, home of the Mexico City Diablos Rojos (Red Devils). It is the only major-league-size baseball stadium that is situated within the confines of a auto racetrack, which is now shown in the diagram. This minor revision was prompted by a photo posted on Facebook by Callum Hughson, showing a couple minor details I had not noticed before.

The mail bag: stadiums

Among the many, many e-mail inquiries and tips I've received lately, [a fan named John] pointed me to a thread at baseball-fever.com on parks in football configuration. In particular, there are some good images (still and video) of Cleveland Stadium and Shea Stadium which I had never seen before.

Second, there are some great old photos of Yankee Stadium, including many in color, at wirednewyork.com. Thanks to (new) Facebook friend Jeff Giuliani.

Also, I got a tip from somebody (I lost track, unfortunately) about an article at slate.com by Eric Nusbaum on some of the greatest stadiums that were never built. Examples would be Edmonton's Omniplex, the proposed football stadium in lower Manhattan. Rather intriguing to contemplate...


April 18, 2010 [LINK / comment]

Tea Party Tax Day rally

Braving a heavy thunderstorm, rising flood waters, and even a tornado several miles away, several dozen Tea Party Patriots made it to the gymnasium in Gypsy Hill Park here in Staunton on Saturday afternoon. It was the third annual such gathering, timed to coincide with the traditional April 15 tax filing deadline. It was the first time I had ever been to a Tea Party event, and I'm glad I went. I only recognized a few people and only talked with a few others, so my impressions don't necessarily mean that much. I remain convinced that the Tea Party phenomenon deserves serious, open-minded consideration by political observers.

The first speaker was Dr. Gerard Alexander, a professor at the University of Virginia and scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. He discussed the erroneous notion held by many that the Tea Party movement is a haven for closet racists. Last September he wrote a column on a similar topic in the Washington Post. (In February 2010 I cited a Washington Post opinion column in which he inquired into the origins of the condescending attitude toward conservatives that prevails among many liberal elites.) One of the main themes of his presentation was that contemporary liberals have become so hopelessly wedded to the idea that the government is the solution to most if not all social problems that anyone who questions their reliance upon government is castigated by them as being unsympathetic with the goals that they proclaim. It's an ugly, widespread syndrome of narrow-mindedness that I have often encountered. Dr. Alexander is enthusiastic about the prospects that Rep. Paul Ryan (Wisconsin) and Gov. Chris Christie (New Jersey) might become national leaders of the Republican Party. He also mentioned a Web site that promotes and encourages right-leaning student activism: conservatism101.org. In sum, Dr. Alexander provided ample and effective intellectual arguments in support of the cause of limited government, which is one of the core Tea Party principles.

Following Dr. Alexander were (in order): John Taylor, a lawyer who discussed the country's cultural heritage. Next came Delegate Dickie Bell, who discussed budget politics in Richmond, lamenting the unhelpful role played by the Virginia Senate, "where conservative bills go to die." I had to leave before Doug Larsen and Congressman Bob Goodlatte spoke. It turned out that Goodlatte arrived late because of the bad weather, which was understandable.

I plan to keep in touch with Tea Party activists in the future, but I don't plan on joining them. After all, I'm one of those old-fashioned people who thinks that tax increases are sometimes an essential (if regrettable) means to balance the budget.

Tea Party Tax Day rally 2011

Dr. Gerard Alexander speaks to the Shenandoah Valley Tea Party Tax Day rally 2011. The banner on the far wall reads "Cut budget $10 trillion in 10 yrs." (Click to enlarge.)


April 19, 2011 [LINK / comment]

Nationals sweep the Brewers

After a slow start to the 2011 season, the Washington Nationals have bounced back and climbed above .500 for the first time since June of last year. They are currently 8-7, or .533 for the season. Their peak in 2010 was 20-15 (.571) in mid-May. Perhaps the most crucial game was a week ago when the Nats beat the Philadelphia Phillies 7-4, to open their home stand. The next two games they faced (respectively) Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee, and chances for winning either of those matchups weren't too good. So, they managed to avoid being swept by one of the best teams in the majors right now, greatly restoring their confidence.

But the best part is that the Nats swept the Milwaukee Brewers, a very solid team that had been near the top of the National League Central Division. The Friday night game was ugly, as Tyler Clippard blew a save opportunity, but then the Nats took advantage of an error in the tenth inning, and Jayson Werth's base-running hustle provided the winning run. Saturday was rained out, and then the makeup double header on Sunday provided great entertainment for the fans in Washington. See MLB.com

Even though their hitting is on the weak side, the Nationals have mustered a very solid pitching rotation. In fact, they are the only team in the majors whose starters have lasted at least five innings in every single game this year. John Lannan, Livan Hernandez, Jordan Zimmermann, Jason Marquis, and even Tom Gorzelanny are all doing very well. It's gratifying to see the team performing that well. The only bad news lately is that Ryan Zimmerman has been put on the disabled list for a pulled abdominal muscle. Hopefully he'll be back by May.

It's a bit awkward having Ivan Rodriguez and Wilson Ramos rotate duties as catchers one day after another, but the results seems to justify it. Pudge has had some great clutch RBIs, even though his average remains low. A newcomer who has had a lot of playing time is reserve outfielder Laynce Nix, who signed as a free agent with Washington in February. His hitting has been subpar, but he did get a home run the other day.

Surprises in the AL East

At the end of the first two weeks of play, the standings look a little bit different than most people would have expected. The Boston Red Sox and Tampa Bay Rays should not be in the American League East cellar; they're both too good for that. Perhaps it stems from bad "mojo" associated with Manny Ramirez's abrupt retirement from baseball after testing positive for performance-enhancing drugs. The Baltimore Orioles had one of their best starts every, but then fell into a bad losing streak, falling behind the Yankees and Blue Jays in the AL East.

The Diamond update

Matt Ereth (a long-time fan and new Facebook friend) brought to my attention the fact that The Diamond page is outdated. The Diamond used to be the home of the Richmond Braves, but they left after the 2009 season. It is now home of the Richmond Flying Squirrels, so I updated the text on that page. As far as I know, the stadium itself has not changed, so the diagram is the same for the time being.

COMMENT by: matthew e, of akron, OH on Apr 19, 2011 18:24 PM
how bout the suprise in the AL Central nobody prob thought cleveland and KC be in in first or second place


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