The Virginia Redistricting Commission’s first-attempt to capture clear political maps dropped dramatically on Friday, when frustrated Democrats withdrew from the meeting after Republicans rejected their proposals for consensus.
The commission, which has been holding meetings for more than a month, never came to an agreement on General Assembly maps. Partisanship dominated the process from the start, with the commission hiring two teams of consultants and often failing to agree on a combination of two maps.
The process now appears to be directed to the Supreme Court of Virginia, unless the three Democratic walkouts change their mind and agree to a reunion. But that seems very unlikely depending on how Friday’s meeting ended.
The gridlock came at a time of breach as the commission failed to agree on which maps to use as a starting point for its final enforcement agreement. Eight Democrats of the commission voted first with a Republican-drawn-out map of the House of Representatives and a Democratic-drawn-out map of the Senate. Republicans voted against the offer and called for the preservation of all Senate maps alive, with the request that all eight Democrats vote down.
This prompted Democratic chairperson Greta Harris to name it. If the commission is to function in 2031, he said, it should not have political representatives and all members need to take part in understanding why blacks are feeling the pinch about maintaining voting power.
“I think our job is done,” Harris said. “And how embarrassing.”
After a short break, Democrats called for a halt to the rally. These attempts failed when two Democrats voted with Republicans to continue working to reach an agreement. But Harris and two other Democratic citizens, James Abrenio and Brandon Hutchins, just walked out of the room, making it clear that they felt some negotiations with Republicans would be useless.
Harris and Abrenio appealed to the Supreme Court, saying they hoped the judges, who adhered to the law, would do a better job of living up to the standard rules that the commission was supposed to have.
“I don’t want to have anything to do with it anymore. Because this is not good, ”said Abrenio. “I’m sorry to all of you for not being able to do the job.”
Republicans said they refused to work on the Democratic-drawn Senate proposal because it was only released on Friday morning, after a week-long public hearing where residents could not see it.
“In the end, I noticed that people did not comment on that map,” said Republican Commissioner Jose Feliciano.
While it was clear that the commission was only voting on which maps to use as a starting point, Sen. Ryan McDougle, R-Hanover, said they wanted to compare and contrast the two Senate proposals instead of being bound to one.
“I don’t understand that the spirit of agreement and working together is not looking at what these differences are, talking about these differences, and trying to come to terms with them,” McDougle said.
Sen. Bill Stanley, R-Franklin, urged the commission to move forward.
“I am reminded that when they take the pope there are a lot of court votes before they get to the white smoke,” Stanley said. “They did not give up.”
Democrats said Republican talks sounded pointless, calling for a spirit of consensus that was not available when it came time to vote.
“Let’s not make it our own with what’s going on here,” said Democrat Sean Kumar, who voted to stay in office and live in a house where some members of the Democratic Party have left. “I’m sorry, but that statement was inconsistent with what we saw. There was no need to try to really start where they started. ”
The Commission met at 9 a.m. Friday. An emergency end of the meeting took place at 2:45 p.m., leaving the commissioners left with nothing to do.
The remaining commissioners were told that perhaps they should not continue to do business without a majority. Republican co-chair Mackenzie Babichenko shouted loudly that he alone could call another meeting without Harris, his partner in organizing the commission’s work.
“Even though we will have a team at that time, it remains to be seen,” he said.
Although the commission only discussed the drawing of maps of the General Assembly, it had to follow this up by re-digging Virginia maps of the conference later this year. It is unclear whether the commissioners are interested in testing the project or just asking the Supreme Court to reinstate it.
The commission, made up of eight sitting legislators and eight citizens elected by the General Assembly and elected by retired judges, was the culmination of years of advocacy from the establishment of translators who wanted to deprive parliament of its powers to become gerrymander. Although many called for a completely non-partisan commission with no legislators involved at all, the idea did not have enough support to pass the General Assembly.
The combined commission passed the General Assembly for two consecutive years and the voters voted overwhelmingly last year.
Members of the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus have strongly criticized the commission, saying it was not doing enough to protect minority voting rights. The race proved to be an important one, with skeptical lawyers giving confusing advice when the commission could and could not use the population to guide mapping decisions.
After a landslide victory in 2019, many Democrats of the House strongly opposed the idea of a commission, saying it would likely lead to a blockage that would lead back to the Supreme Court-dependent.
But some Democrats thought the outcome would not be as dangerous as predicted, and could move the country closer with the goal of removing lawmakers from the scene altogether.
The Court must adhere to the requirements of territorial integrity and racial and political impartiality. Instead of the judges drawing a map themselves, this process requires the court to select two external experts, based on the names of the nominees brought by each political party, who will submit a plan to the court for approval.
The country’s highest court has already backed Democrats in the first courts to reduce the 2021 rotation, rejecting Republicans’ attempt to adopt a new Democratic law that requires prisoners to be counted as citizens in their cities, not as prisoners.