Sudden Redistricting Vote Surprises Va. Democrats

January 22, 2013

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) - A day after Virginia Senate Republicans staged a surprise reapportionment of all 40 Senate districts, it was met by ominous warnings from Democrats and nervous dismay by the state's Republican governor and House Republicans.

On a party-line power play Monday, the Senate's 20 Republicans struck with one of the 20 Senate Democrats absent and abruptly amended a House bill that previously made minor technical adjustments to House districts.

Sen. John Watkins' amendment - never vetted by a committee - adds a sixth majority-black district but substantially strengthens the number of GOP districts.

Republican Del. John Cosgrove voiced misgivings about the amendment. Gov. Bob McDonnell also criticized it but stopped short of saying he'd veto it. McDonnell fears a partisan meltdown in the evenly divided Senate would doom his transportation reforms.

The reapportionment would take away Democrat Creigh Deeds' district, and put him in the same district as Republican Emmett Hanger. Deeds currently represents Charlottesville and parts of Albemarle County, among other counties.

Political experts say the re-drawn district would likely favor Republicans, and put Deeds in danger of losing his seat to Hanger. Hanger voted in favor of the new boundaries on Monday. Deeds voted against.

Governor Bob McDonnell released a statement saying he had no idea there was going to be a redistricting plan, and has not indicated if he will sign it.

Senators Mark Warner and Tim Kaine released a joint statement on the surprise vote:

"On a day when Americans celebrated Martin Luther King, Jr.'s birthday and inaugurated Barack Obama as President, Virginia Senate Republicans took advantage of the absence of civil rights leader Sen. Henry Marsh to push through a hyper-partisan change to Virginia's already gerrymandered legislative district map.

"This is not the way we should be conducting the people’s business in Virginia. We are encouraged by Governor McDonnell’s statements today expressing disapproval of the tactics that were used. We urge legislative leaders and other elected officials to do the right thing to correct this disappointing and disruptive partisan action."

Experts say, the Republicans' tactic is not going to win them any favors.

"That's going to attract a lot of bad press," said Kyle Kondik, with the University of Virginia Center for Politics. "The fact that this just sort of came out of the blue, doesn't look very good. But on the other hand, so long as it stands up in court, then they end up winning."

Democrats have already threatened to sue to stop these boundary changes. The plan still has to get passed by the House of Delegates, the governor, and a federal judge before it becomes law.

(Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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