Continuing our series on redistricting, I’d like to focus on the likely new boundaries for the lower house of the Virginia General Assembly, the House of Delegates. In today’s segment, we will be looking at my home past and present, the city of Harrisonburg and the surrounding county of Rockingham.
The first question we ought to ask is, how are the House of Delegates districts currently drawn? Well, as of the last Census, they looked as follows:
As you can see, the 26th district (represented by Del. Tony Wilt of Broadway which is a town in Rockingham) encompasses the city and the northern half of the county. The rest is split between the 20th (represented by Del. Dickie Bell of Staunton city), the 25th (represented by Del. Steve Landes of Weyers Cave, a town in Augusta County), and the 15th (represented by Del. Todd Gilbert of Mt. Jackson, a town in Shenandoah County).
Here’s a modest redistricting proposal. Because Harrisonburg has a greater population density than the surrounding county, both Harrisonburg and Rockingham County could be represented by two delegates assuming one collected the pieces from the 20th, 25th, and 15th. Although I believe that all four delegates have done a good job representing our shared Valley values, wouldn’t it make more sense to shave that number to two (or three depending on how the lines break)? Doesn’t it seem logical to have Rockingham County voters represented by, oh I don’t know, a citizen from Rockingham County? Instead we have only one Rockingham resident Delegate, as listed above, the rest are from Staunton, Augusta, and Shenandoah. Nevertheless, even if they aren’t all from Rockingham or Harrisonburg, at least they are all from the Shenandoah Valley.
So what fate will redistricting have on Rockingham County? The most likely outcome, offered by Delegate Chris Jones of Suffolk and passed by the Virginia Senate looks like this:
Disappointingly, this map still quarters Rockingham County between four seats. Like before, the 26th comprises the bulk while the remainder is divvied up between the 15th, the 25th, and a surprising newcomer, the 58th. As you might notice, the 25th takes an ugly jut through southwest Rockingham County as it swallows up territory formerly in the 20th. Traveling south and east we see that both the 20th and 25th districts are both heavily gerrymandered under this plan.
Regarding the 25th, does anyone else see a problem with a house district that goes from the West Virginia border to the outskirts of the city of Charlottesville around 50 miles away? Can you honestly tell me that the citizens of Rockingham have much in common with those living in the suburbs of Charlottesville? Having personally lived in both localities, I can assure you that they are as similar as night and day.
And what of this 58th district? That seat is currently held by Delegate Rob Bell of Charlottesville. Again, I have no complaints against this Del. Bell, but if Rockingham residents can’t be represented by their neighbors shouldn’t they at least be represented by folks in the culturally connected Valley? Guess what citizens of Rockingham! In order to visit the office of your new delegate, you’ll have to cross the Blue Ridge Mountains, travel through Greene County and then into Albemarle County. For some of you, that likely means a forty-five minute drive. Good luck with that.
All of this discussion begs the question, why is Rockingham split as it is? Well, both Rockingham County and Augusta County to the south are some of the two most reliably Republican voting areas of the state. Think back to 2008 when Jim Gilmore was absolutely destroyed in the race for U.S. Senate. What were two of the measly six localities he won? Rockingham and Augusta.
So why has Rockingham County swapped one Delegate Bell (Dickie) for another (Rob)? The answer may be seniority. After all, any Republican politician would love to have some rich conservative Rockingham soil in his or her district. Given that Del. Bell of Charlottesville has been in office for eight more years than Del. Bell of Staunton, I’m guessing padding his district is of greater importance to Del. Jones and whoever else had a hand in drawing this map. All the while, the voters of Rockingham are mere pawns in this political horse swap.
If for no other reason than for the sake of my friends and family who are spread around Rockingham County, I hope this plan fails. Sure, it helps conservative Republicans, which is desirable for those who share my ideology, but it does so at the unacceptable expense of undermining our political process. Rockingham County is more than just a wheel of cheese to be sliced up as is politically convenient.
Anyway, the take home point is this: For gerrymandering pure and simple this plan ought to be rejected by the General Assembly, the Governor, and the courts.
Something is rotten in Rockingham. I can’t be the only person who notices this truth!