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Senate shifts local districts
If OK’d, city, county go to the 15th, Patrick to the 40th

Friday, January 25, 2013

By MICKEY POWELL - Bulletin Staff Writer

Legislation altering Virginia Senate district boundaries would put Henry and Patrick counties and Martinsville in new districts.

But redistricting, as it was approved by the Senate on Monday, likely will not occur because Gov. Bob McDonnell and Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling apparently do not support it, said W.C. Fowlkes, Henry County’s Republican Party chairman.

That is notable, according to local political leaders, because McDonnell and Bolling are Republicans, and it was that party which ramrodded the redistricting measure through the Senate, where it was approved in a vote along party lines.

Henry and Patrick counties and Martinsville currently are in the 20th District, represented by state Sen. Bill Stanley, R-Glade Hill. The district also includes parts of Pittsylvania, Carroll, Franklin and Halifax counties.

Under the Senate-approved legislation, Henry County and Martinsville would be in the 15th District with Charlotte and Lunenburg counties and parts of Danville and Pittsylvania, Halifax, Mecklenburg and Prince Edward counties, a legislative information website showed.

Patrick County would be in the 40th District along with Bristol and Galax as well as Carroll, Grayson, Smyth and Washington counties and parts of Floyd and Scott counties, the website showed.

The redrawn 20th District would include all of Franklin and Montgomery counties and Radford, as well as parts of Roanoke County.

Brian O’Connor, Stanley’s legislative assistant, confirmed the changes. He referred comment on them to Stanley, who was in committee meetings on Thursday and could not be reached for comment.

The Senate district changes would not be effective until the 2015 election, O’Connor confirmed. They first must be approved by the House, signed by McDonnell and, according to Del. Don Merricks, ultimately approved by the U.S. Department of Justice.

They are part of a Senate-amended House Bill 259, which originally made adjustments to some House districts.

HB259 was approved by the House in 2012 but the Senate deferred action on it until this year.

The Senate on Monday approved the amended legislation in a 20-19 vote. Stanley voted with the Republicans in favor of the measure. One Democratic senator was absent, which led to the measure’s passage.

It was an unexpected move — and a controversial one — that caught even McDonnell by surprise. Normally, redistricting is done after the U.S. Census is completed every 10 years.

Merricks, R-Pittsylvania, said the House will have to reconsider the legislation because the Senate amended it. It is on the House’s calendar, he said, but he does not know how soon that legislative chamber will mull it.

Merricks declined to discuss his opinions about the redistricting, saying, “I’ve been so busy (with other legislative business) that I haven’t had time to look at it” thoroughly yet. He said he does not yet know how he will vote on it.

Even if the House approves the legislation, the governor could veto it, said Martinsville-Henry County Democratic Party Chairman Jeff Adkins.

Local leaders of both parties agree that the redistricting effort is part of an attempt by Republicans to gain power in the General Assembly.

“Politics is an interesting game,” said Jeff Williams, Martinsville’s Republican Party chairman, and gaining control is “just how the game is played.”

Although the Senate has an equal number of Republicans and Democrats, Republicans comprise the majority of the House.

When one party has a majority, it does things to try and keep it, Fowlkes said.

“I’m seeing a trend” in the Republican Party nationally, Adkins said. “Instead of trying to win elections, they are trying to change (political district) maps” to protect their power.

Their actions could turn off voters, the local Republican and Democratic party leaders agree.

Frequent redistricting “gets very confusing to the constituents,” Fowlkes said. He believes that is true, he said, because “it’s confusing for me” as a political party official.

Politicians are “just posturing themselves for the next election” instead of focusing on doing public business, he said.

Eventually when parties take their messages to the public, frustrated voters will “just tune it out,” he said.

According to Adkins, no party needs too much control.

“The two-party system works” in the U.S. government, he said, noting that every party should have competition.

Currently, the 15th Senate District includes Charlotte, Mecklenburg, Lunenburg and Nottoway counties and parts of Pittsylvania, Halifax, Brunswick, Campbell, Dinwiddie and Prince George counties. It is represented by state Sen. Frank Ruff, R-Clarksville.

The 40th Senate District currently includes Grayson, Lee, Scott and Washington counties and parts of Smyth, Wise and Wythe counties.

It is represented by state Sen. Bill Carrico, R-Galax, who assumed the office in 2012. The district had been represented by William Wampler since 1988. Wampler did not seek re-election in 2011, and he now is executive director of the New College Institute in Martinsville.

Williams said he does not know much about Ruff.

“My only desire” if redistricting occurs, Williams said, is that Ruff, or whoever wins the 15th District seat in 2015, “represent Martinsville to the best of their ability.”

Local House districts and the voting precincts in them are to remain the same under the proposed legislation.

Patrick County is to stay in the 9th House District. Henry County is to stay split between the 14th and 16th House Districts, and Martinsville is to stay in the 16th.


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