Despite Virginia's status as a key swing state in the 2008 presidential elections, the state's many moderate voters will learn once again this fall how little voice they have in the Virginia House of Delegates.
The vast majority of the state's 100 House of Delegate districts are drawn to reduce--if not eliminate--genuine two-party competition.
Quite apart from the inherent undemocratic nature of this, the process has serious practical consequences. The near-constant gridlock and partisan and ideological feuding in Richmond does not just happen. Rather, it is the identifiable result of a flawed redistricting process, as Farnsworth explains:
The drawing of legislative lines by incumbent office-holders, perhaps the most powerful incumbent-protection device in all of politics, ensures that the real electoral action in many legislative districts will occur in June primaries and conventions, when the most far-left and far-right slivers of the electorate determine the Democratic and Republican nominees.
Those nominees, selected on the basis of their appeal to the most conservative Republicans and most liberal Democrats, immediately become almost certain winners or almost certain losers depending on the composition of the district in which they run.
With these gerrymandered legislative districts, safe-seat incumbents are not obligated to defend their policies or talk about future priorities. They can even skip debates against major-party challengers with little risk to their prospects for re-election. Candidates in one-sided districts need fear only intra-party competition, so they worry mostly about rivals who are more extreme than they are, further pushing these politicians away from the mainstream.
In addition to the negative effect this has on the ability of government to function, another pernicious result of this system is to alienate people from engaging in the political process. Farnsworth again:
The lack of viable electoral competition in these ideologically drawn districts depresses turnout in state general elections, already a significant problem in Virginia. The state holds its legislative elections in odd-numbered years, and there is substantial voter drop-off from presidential election years. Gerrymandered districts make a bad turnout situation even worse.
For Creigh Deeds, redistricting reform is a centerpeice of his campaign. Creigh explains that solving our problems will always be difficult until this core problem is fixed, because as currently configured, the process encourages ideological divide among our legislators, not pragmatic compromise.
Here is what Creigh said recently about the fundamental and lasting change he can bring to Virginia on this issue:
The Governor elected in 2009 will be the one who has to sign the next redistricting bill. That’s where I could have the longest range impact. … I believe I can change the calculus of politics in Virginia for a long time to come by setting the precedent of establishing non-partisan, or a bi-partisan, form of redistricting. … Redistricting on 2011 is unique to the Governor [elected] in 2009. I know I can fix that.
Indeed, Creigh has shown an unwavering commitment to this issue. This past session, his redistricting reform bill was passed by the Senate for the third time, this time with unanimous backing, only to be killed – once again -- in the House of Delegates. As Governor, however, Creigh maintains he can use his veto power to force de facto non-partisan redistricting on the General Assembly. Over the next ten years, this would result in the election of Senators and Delegates who are less partisan and less ideological, and presumably, more open to enacting a legislative or Constitutional change to make redistricting permanently non- or bi-partisan.
According to his website, Brian Moran has pledged that as governor, he will appoint a redistricting commission on his own and he will not sign a partisan redistricting plan.
Terry McAuliffe's position on government reform and accountability, to the extent he has any, are not set forth on his website.
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