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Archive for March, 2011

As I continue my exploration into the world of gerrymandering, yesterday Virginia’s Division of Legislative Services released three suggested redistricting maps, one for the House of Delegates and two for the Virginia Senate.  In this article, we will be focusing on the Senate.

Here is our current map:

Current Map of Virginia Senate Districts

Is there significant gerrymandering in the system?  Absolutely.  Along the border with North Carolina, one can find bizarre images.  Going from west to east, something is a bit off with the 19th, 15th, and 18th districts.  And look at Creigh Deeds’ 25th.  It includes his home in Bath County next to the West Virginia border and then travels along a narrow corridor until it widens to pick up the liberal city of Charlottesville and the surrounding area about 100 miles away.  Is it only foolish hope to expect anything better?

Help is on the way!  As stated, there are two plans circulating, one Republican under Senator John Watkins from the 10th and one Democratic from Senator Janet Howell of the 32nd.  Let’s first tackle the Watkins plan.

Watkins Proposal

The first thing you might notice is that the number of your Senate district has likely changed.  I’m not sure why he would alter the numbering system.  It seems to me to be an unneeded annoyance.  More importantly, is there gerrymandering in the Watkins plan?  You bet!  First, he maintains a fair number of gerrymandered districts from the current map, such as the 37th.

The 37th (formerly numbered the 19th); with its trunk and reaching branches, it sort of looks like a tree.

Holy smokes!  A mushroom cloud!  Is someone launching nukes?  No, that’s only the proposed 18th district.

The 31st (formerly the 26th) may not seem too gerrymandered, but as a resident of the city of Harrisonburg, I can tell you that I’m not too happy about it.  If the district needed to grow, why wouldn’t it expand south to include most, if not all, of the remaining portion of Rockingham County?  Instead, it leaps over the Blue Ridge Mountains to pick up part of Culpeper County.  Why, oh, why?

Let’s move on to the Howell plan.  Is it better?

Howell Proposal

I’m grateful that Howell doesn’t modify the numbering scheme, but that alone doesn’t make it a worthy suggestion.

First off, you’ll note that Howell’s plan retains the heavily gerrymandered 25th.  In addition, sort of like the proposed 31st under Watkins, the 24th district sneaks across the Blue Ridge to include part of Culpeper County.  But there are other offending districts, too.

What’s going between the 20th and the 15th?  I used to draw similar shapes when I was bored in school.  What is the conversation here?  We need the city of Danville and the eastern part of Pittsylvania County in the 20th.  What about the western portion?  Stick it in the 15th!  While we are at it, let’s give the 15th a nice new hat by including Amherst County too.  And how much, if any, of the 19th district is within it’s current borders?

If you draw an eye around Lazy Oak Corner, one can easily see the 18th district as a monster looking to consume the western half of the 13th.  Just plain ugly.

I’d include more maps, but with each new image WordPress is taking more and more time to upload them.  Instead, I invite you to explore the redistricting website yourself. Chances are, you’ll have to download a new plugin to make the site work.

You should note that I haven’t even begun to consider party gains under these two proposals.  Nevertheless, I’d wager that the Watkins plan will result in more Republican victories while the Howell proposal will do likewise for the Democrats.  Both have their share of flaws and obvious gerrymandering and should be rejected…or at least heavily modified.  At the end of the day, I hope that the General Assembly refuses both of these plans and draws compact districts with not quite so many funny shapes.

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From the folks at the USC Annenberg Center comes The ReDistricting Game!  If you haven’t had a chance to try it, you really should give it a whirl.  Take the role of an “independent” advisor as you carve up districts to benefit various political parties and protect or even destroy incumbents.  Dilute or over-inflate the voting strength of those Republicans, Democrats, or minorities by putting them in a single district.  Better yet, thinly spread them across many districts to make sure that they have no voice in the government.  Compactness?  Who needs it?  Fair elections?  Bah, let’s make sure elections are decided before they even take place!

Here are a couple of screen shots from the program:

Hmm...the 3rd district looks a little gerrymandered. I bet we can do better.

Are these new districts fair, gerrymandered, or a tribute to modern art? You decide. But hey, the GOP should be able to easily win the 4th district as a result.

Play the game now and I’m sure you’ll gerrymander up some fun!*

* Warning:  Participating this game may lead to anger, discontent, and disillusionment with the redistricting process and the government in general.  Game is for entertainment purposes only and any schemes it suggests are not intended for use in any real world scenarios.  Many will play.  Only voters of the right party affiliation/race/religion/etc. will win.  If you can’t tell, neither this program nor the author of this blog supports gerrymandering.  If  you suspect an elected official has developed an addiction to gerrymandering seek the help of your state representatives or the court system.  Gerrymandering left untreated can lead to disenfranchisement, career politicians, and increased voter apathy.  Although The ReDistricting Game by itself will not eliminate gerrymandering, combined with a diet of healthy education and regular political exercise, the problem can minimized.  Use only as directed.

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Earlier today, I read Jamie Radtke’s response to the Libyan situation on her website.  About an hour ago, I received an email from George Allen’s campaign regarding his thoughts.  That information is also now found on his campaign site.  Unfortunately, David McCormick’s website is currently unavailable, so I don’t know if he has a stated position on this issue.  I figure you might find this information helpful as you get to know more about the Republican candidates running for United States Senate.  I have listed them in chronological order.

From Jamie Radtke:

A U.N. vote does not supersede a Congressional vote

President Obama’s decision to commit America to a third concurrent war has two serious flaws. First, the president has committed American troops to battle without the authorization of Congress. And second, Libya does not present a security threat to the United States, and we have no business being a part of this military intervention.

It is the United States Congress, not the United Nations Security Council, which should determine if we commit the American military to war. A United Nations vote does not supersede a Congressional vote.

I am disturbed that the President seemed more concerned about a U.N. vote than Congressional authorization. The United States Congress must hold an immediate vote on a declaration of war on Libya.

I support the war in Afghanistan, which was in response to the terrorist attack on U.S. soil that killed thousands of Americans, and the war in Iraq, which was intended to stop a WMD program that we and nearly all other nations believed that Saddam Hussein was undertaking. While I would have preferred declarations of war, Congress did at least pass war resolutions for the use of military force in both wars.

In Libya, however, the United States is facing no imminent national security threat, yet we are doing most of the heavy lifting, and we have no Congressional authorization for the use of military force.

What’s even worse, this military intervention does not have clear goals or objectives. Are we intending to drive Qaddafi from power? If so, air power alone will not suffice. Do we intend simply to level the playing field? What if Qaddafi still gains the upper-hand? Do we escalate? Will American forces be subordinated to the Europeans or the UN? Who will be in charge of allied forces, and thus take ultimate responsibility for victory or for defeat? How will victory even be defined? Will a two-state Libya be an acceptable outcome?

And if humanitarian reasons are our chief reason for intervention, as Obama has stated it is, what of the many other civil wars and slaughter of civilians that are occurring around the world every day? Why Libya and not the Ivory Coast or Sudan or Congo?

None of these questions have been answered by President Obama, or even raised by him. One wonders if he has even thought of them, in spite of the fact that these were the very questions that Obama himself raised in opposition to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. By his own criterion, Obama is setting up America for failure.

The Arab League, Europe and Africa are in the best position to provide accountability to their Libyan neighbor. President Obama’s decision is reckless and ill-advised. Congress must find the courage to reassert its Constitutional prerogative for any use of force involving the American military.

From George Allen:

With the courageous men and women of our armed forces serving in harm’s way in North Africa, Americans should support them and their families as they perform their duty. However, we should not be outsourcing our sovereign foreign policy decisions to the United Nations. The elected representatives of the people in U.S. House and Senate, not the UN Security Council, should be the governing body authorizing U.S. military action. With our current commitments in Korea, Afghanistan and Iraq, the President must present to the American people and Congress the goals and the extent of our military action in Libya.

This action once again brings to the forefront the need to develop an American energy policy that reduces our dependence on oil from a volatile region – a dangerous vulnerability that demands an ever-higher cost from America.  All while we have very accessible American coal, gas and oil resources.

The President has much more to explain to the American people.

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Is anyone else troubled by the recent developments regarding Libya?  Now I’m not talking about the clashes between pro-Gaddafi forces and the rebels who seek to overthrow him.  I assume we can agree that Gaddafi is an unjust despot, as are many of the leaders of non-democratic countries around the world.  We can freely disagree concerning whether or not the U.S. should intervene in this conflict.

Instead, the most disturbing element of current events was President Obama’s unilateral decision to launch a military strike against the nation.  Be they no-fly zones, missile attacks, or a ground force invasion, any violation of Libyan sovereign territory puts us at war with the nation.  However, according our Constitution, if you read Article One, Section Eight, only Congress has the power to declare war.  Did Obama seek and was he granted such authorization? No.

On this topic, I present to you today’s (March 21, 2011) thoughts of Democrat Dennis Kucinich (OH-10).

Isn’t President Obama’s actions a clear violation of the Constitution?  Now some people erroneously believe that the War Powers Resolution supercedes the Constitution and transfers this authority to declare war away from the Congress and to the President.   Although I don’t believe the War Powers Resolution is constitutional, that issue is a matter for another day.  To be clear, assuming the War Powers Resolution is valid, it reads:

The constitutional powers of the President as Commander-in-Chief to introduce United States Armed Forces into hostilities, or into situations where imminent involvement in hostilities is clearly indicated by the circumstances, are exercised only pursuant to
(1) a declaration of war,
(2) specific statutory authorization, or
(3) a national emergency created by attack upon the United States, its territories or possessions, or its armed forces.
So was there a declaration of war?  No.  Was there a specific statutory authorization?  Not that I can find.  How about a national emergency?  With Gaddafi desperately struggling to control his own nation, I sincerely doubt anyone can make the claim that he currently possesses either the will or the military forces necessary to pose any sort of threat to our country.

Now I want you to compare Kucinich’s words to Republican Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s (VA-7) from Hardball on February 8, 2007.

Scary isn’t it?  I certainly hope that Representative Cantor has changed his opinion in the four years since this recording.  Unfortunately his website and blog are silent on these recent developments.  Granting one man the ability to declare war without any real oversight or approval marches the nation toward the spectre of endless conflict and a totalitarian state.

At the end of the day, whichever party happens to be in power, they all must obey the Constitution.  Clearly with this action in Libya, Obama has grossly overstepped his authority.  I would not support an executively created war whether it happens under a Republican or a Democrat.  You know what is destroying this country?  This event serves as a prime example. Outside the rule of law we have given one man far too much power.  And what we do not give him willingly, he takes in the name of our own best interest, in our supposed national security, or for international peacekeeping efforts.

We must not look at this matter through the lens of whether you support or oppose the use of military force in Libya.  After all, history may judge this intervention to be a great idea or a horrid mistake.  Nevertheless, it is clear that our President has blatantly disregarded our Constitution.

You may already realize that this matter is not a partisan issue but one where pitting those who defend our laws against those who ignore them.  As Republican Representative Justin Amash (MI-3) wrote on Sunday:

It’s not enough for the President simply to explain military actions in Libya to the American people, after the fact, as though we are serfs. When there is no imminent threat to our country, he cannot launch strikes without authorization from the American people, through our elected Representatives in Congress. No United Nations resolution or congressional act permits the President to circumvent the Constitution.

Perhaps you remember the words of Democrat Rep. Steve Israel (NY-2) in which he stated in the second video, “Congress has a constitutional responsibility to decide whether we are going to war or not.”

So what will be the end result of this affair?  Looking back, will this moment be the defining time in which Congress stands up for the Constitution and rule of law or will it surrender to the executive branch?  Do you want to know why our country is heading toward oblivion?  You need look no further than Obama’s response in Libya.

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Did you stumble upon my recent post about gerrymandering and think to yourself, “if only this article was in some sort of video instead”?  Well, now you are in luck.

Over the last several days, I have been converting that earlier work into format suitable for YouTube and am pleased to say that it is now completed.  It was a pretty lengthy process, but I’m sure that this effort is another important milestone in the life of this blog.

So watch and enjoy!

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Last night several hundred people gathered at the Augusta County Government Center to hear about the issue of property rights and the UN’s Agenda 21.

A small portion of the crowd

Hosting the event were the Shenandoah Valley Tea Party, the Rockbridge Tea Party, and a surprising addition, the Augusta County Constitution Party.  Until last night, I was completely unaware that the Constitution Party was organized on the county level here in Virginia.  Apparently they currently have a couple of chapters around the state right now.

Augusta County Constitution Party Booth

In addition, there were a good number of General Assembly legislators in the audience.  Representing the Virginia House of Delegates, I saw Dickie Bell (20), Ben Cline (24), Steve Landes (25), Tony Wilt (26), and, of course, Bob Marshall (13).  Emmett Hanger (24) was the only Senator I observed.

All in all, the program lasted a bit over two hours.  Delegate Marshall primarily spoke about local, state, and national efforts to both help or hinder property rights while Donna Holt of Virginia Campaign for Liberty focused on the UN and its plans for global control.  Although Marshall and Holt took the bulk of the program, there were also two other speakers, Charles Kraut from Lexington and someone else whose name I didn’t catch.

Donna Holt and Delegate Bob Marshall

Overall the audience seems fairly receptive to the message.  Apparently this meeting is just one of several coordinated across the state.  The most important question is, what sort of impact will this event have on regional and state politics?  Only time will tell.

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There has been a lot of talk about redistricting here in Virginia lately.  Virginia has eleven congressmen so the big question is, how should their districts be divided up?  The first thing we should consider is how the districts looked prior to redistricting.

Virginia Congressional Districts as of 2010

These boundaries were drawn after the 2000 Census.  Before we get started, I feel that I need to explain the word gerrymander.  Dictionary.com defines the term as, “the dividing of a state, county, etc., into election districts so as to give one political party a majority in many districts while concentrating the voting strength of the other party into as few districts as possible.”  In addition, districts should be compact and contiguous.  So, with those thoughts, do you see any gerrymandering in our current map?  I do.

The first area I’d like to focus on is the northern portion of the 9th Congressional district.

Virginia's 9th Congressional District

See anything odd here?  For the most part, the 9th is pretty compact, containing all of southwest Virginia.  But toward the northeast fringe, you notice it takes an odd shape to encompass the lower half of Alleghany County.  This distortion is most pronounced when you also look at the 6th.

Virginia's 6th Congressional District

Now what’s so special about the southern half of Alleghany County?  I can find nothing about the county itself, but within this area is the city of Covington.  Although the city of Covington is not a large place, the citizens typically vote far more Democratic than the surrounding areas.  For example, according to the State Board of Elections in 2008 while 53% of Virginians voted for Barack Obama 55% of voters in Covington voted for him.  Big deal you might say.  It is only two percent.  However, when we compare Covington to the surrounding localities, you do notice a significant difference.  Obama only received 48% of the vote in Alleghany (surrounding the city), 43% of the vote in Bath County (to the north), 43% of the vote in Rockbridge County (to the east), 33% of the vote in Craig County (to the south), and 33% of the vote in Botetourt County (in the southeast).  Of course many cities follow this trend.  So why did they draw the lines to include Covington in the 9th?  Well, until the last election, Rich Boucher, a Democrat, was the representative of the 9th.  So, in order to improve his reelection chances as well as to move some Democratic voters out of the otherwise conservative 6th district, the bizarre looking lines were drawn this way.

Now by themselves, the roughly 2,300 voters of Covington do not decide an election.  However, when combined with other similarly Democratic localities spread over more than two hundred miles, they do make an impact.  Even though Boucher lost in 2010 by about 9,000 votes, can you name at least one of the nine localities he won?  Anyone?  That’s right.  Covington.  The main purpose of gerrymandering is to benefit one or more parties (in this case the incumbents at the expense of other party challengers).  Now that Boucher is gone, I hope the Covington enclave will disappear.

However, I can find no clearer example of gerrymandering in Virginia then the 3rd Congressional district.  Look at this monster.

Virginia's 3rd Congressional District

Most of these localities don’t even share a common border unless you include the James River.  Now maybe you could argue that communities along the James River share a common interest, but then why would you exclude the area in between Charles City County and Newport News in the north (James City County) and the area between Surry County and Portsmouth City (Isle of Wight County and Suffolk City)?  You also miss a big chunk of the city of Newport News!  Unfortunately, there is only one ugly answer;  racism.

Back in 1993, the Justice Department insisted that the state of Virginia create a Congressional district that encompasses a majority of minority citizens (in this case black people) with the presumption that these citizens would elect a representative of this race.  Well, the plan worked and as of the 1993 election, that area has been represented by Rep. Bobby Scott.  It makes no sense to me.  In order to end discrimination we must discriminate?  What if a district was created specifically to ensure a white representative?  Would that not be equally as racist?  What is the underlying message here?  Racism is OK so long as it promotes the interest of some minority group?  What a load of crap.  This section of the Voting Rights Act has long since passed its useful purpose.  Thank goodness President George W. Bush renewed the act in 2006.  Good to see he had a strong grasp of federalism and the limited scope of federal power…oh wait.

Moving on, in the last couple of days I’ve seen two maps circulating regarding potential redistricting plans both by David Wasserman of The Cook Political Report on his twitter feed.  The first can also be found in an article by Shaun Kenney over at Bearing Drift.  Please keep in mind that I am not trying to be critical of Wasserman as he is just offering hypothetical outcomes.

Just a few comments about this plan.  First of all, the 3rd is gerrymandered just as it has been.  Now maybe, due to federal law, we have to have a racially mandated district, but I would certainly challenge that assertion in court.  At the very least, put all of Newport News in the same district!  Second, fortunately the whole Covington gerrymander issue has been resolved.  Lastly, look at the 11th and the 5th Districts!  The 11th is very ugly as it reaches around northern Virginia, picking up pockets of Democratic voters.  Surely that district could be drawn in such a way that it makes gerrymandering look far less obvious.  And then we have the 5th.  Could this district be one of the most geographically elongated in the nation, going from the North Carolina border to one county away from Maryland?  Have most people in Fauquier County ever been to Hailfax County, much less know where it is?  You can’t honestly tell me that they share a whole lot of similar concerns.  From what I hear, this plan mainly serves to enhance the reelection chances of all of the current Representatives.  If each Rep. is secure in his district, what is the point of elections?  In Soviet Russia elections were not contested.  Do we want such a stagnant outcome here?  For the handful of reasons listed above, the Virginia legislature must reject this map.

Let’s look at the next map.

This map assumes that the Department of Justice will require Virginia to create another majority minority district.  In this case, it would be the 4th.  As you can see, this new 4th would  pickup a chunk of the city of Richmond and then stretch along the North Carolina border until reaching the city of Danville.  Of course you could not draw a straight line from Richmond to Danville in this district as it excludes most of Chesterfield and Dinwiddie, both very strongly Republican areas.  Actually, under this plan all you have to do is look at many of the areas in which Representative Forbes (the current legislator) did the best in 2010 (Powhatan 81%, Amelia 71%, half of Isle of Wight 69%, Chesterfield 64%, Nottoway 63%, Dinwiddie 61%, etc) and remove them from the district.  Also, the 11th is just as ugly as it was before and now the 2nd looks horribly gerrymandered too as it wraps around the 3rd.  I have to give this plan a failing grade as well.

At the end of the day, it really shouldn’t be that hard.  Although it may be nothing more than a idealistic dream, I really hope that the General Assembly will create non-gerrymandered compact districts based upon regional similarities and concerns.  When you consider political parties, race, or protecting incumbent candidates, you really undermine the whole idea of free and fair elections in the first place.  Maybe we should revert to how we briefly selected candidates back in 1933 where they were all elected at large.  No threat of gerrymandering there.  Heck, give me a map of Virginia, a pen, and the relevant census data and I’ll create a map for you that looks a whole lot better than any of the current proposals floating about or what we have now.

Illinois 4th Congressional District

Or maybe you’d prefer a few more bizarre districts like this one?  It is like a Rorschach inkblot.  What do I see?  Deception, corruption, and maybe a set of sideways earmuffs.  Ah, the fine art of gerrymandering!

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