The Virginia Redistricting Commission voted Monday to start with blank, new maps. Some legislators proposed an alternate proposal to draw two sets of maps, one based off current maps, and one from a blank slate, but that motion was defeated.
Citizen Commissioner Sean Kumar (D) introduced the initial motion for blank maps, noting that in public comment, most of the public has expressed a desire for new maps, and that both parties have an interest in protecting the incumbents.
Barker introduced the substitute plan to draw the two sets of maps, and Senator Steve Newman (R-Bedford) seconded it.
Newman repeatedly his previously expressed warnings about the difficulty of getting the General Assembly to approve the maps, and advised starting with existing maps.
“I’ve been very concerned that we, what I call ‘Land the plane,’ he said, saying that some commissioners weren’t as worried about creating maps that would succeed.
He said, “I think we should do everything that we can to make sure that we end up with a process that gets through this commission and the General Assembly passes.”
He said he probably won’t run for reelection so it doesn’t matter to him personally. “Ya’ll do in my area what you want,” he said.
Citizen Commissioner James Abrenio said, “I am interested in landing this plane. I want to be clear about that. But I think the best way to land this plane is we come together as a commission, we come up with fair maps that everybody agrees is fair, we present it to the legislature, and the public buys in to the extent that if [the legislature then turns it down] there will be political repercussions for not landing that plane when the commission came together fairly.”
The partisan map-drawers were also introduced after a decision last week to choose two partisan teams of experts instead of one non-partisan team.
“I must say, I did not expect to be here, but I’m happy to be here,” GOP map-drawer John Morgan told the commission.
Morgan worked in the 1991, 2001, and 2011 redistricting cycles. This is his fourth redistricting cycle, and he’s also working with commissions in other states. “In Virginia I worked in 2001 for the Majority Leader Morgan Griffith’s staff and I also worked with the State Senate at that time. In 2011 I worked primarily with the House of Delegates with Delegate Chris Jones at that time,” he said. “I’ve had a lot of redistricting experience. When I go to bed at night I see precincts and counties and things like that.”
Later, Delegate Marcus Simon (D-Fairfax) called Morgan a “gerrymandering mastermind.”
The Democratic map-drawer is HaystaqDNA. Democratic counsel said the firm’s CEO Ken Strassman has more than thirty years redistricting experience. Haystaq and its sister company Strategic Telemetry have worked on redistricting, including as mapping consultants to a 2010 redistricting commission in Arizona. The firm’s website and social media touts its work in support of Bernie Sander’s 2016 and 2020 campaigns as well as other candidates.
“We pioneered the predictive analytics that helped the Obama campaign make history,” the firm’s Twitter bio states.
“Like Mr. Morgan, I echo, I did not expect to be here, coming in late to this process, but we have a large and experienced team and are ready to hit the ground running,” Strassman said.
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