I spoke with Mark Tenia of WRIC-8 News tonight about the VA redistricting issue. (Video and transcript available here, at least at time of posting.) As usual, I thought Mark did a nice job of boiling down a super-complicated issue into a tiny amount of time, but of course he has to leave out a lot. A few additional thoughts:
The federal courts will control the redistricting, as the VA Democrats wanted. But the Dems won't necessarily get what they want, for two reasons:
- The federal courts, as much as they are decried for being activist by right-wing critics, are typically respectful of state politics, particularly when they would have to step into fraught political battles. This is especially true with the VA 3rd, where it's not like anti-racism battles of the past. There is no clear idea, on both sides, about how best to serve the interests of minority voters, so it's not the case here that federal judges can feel like progressive crusaders fixing the backward ideas of local yokels. And the courts will likely respect the local process; so if the Republicans propose a map soon, they might be able to influence the outcome.
- One thing I wish that Mark had given me more time to talk about is the surrounding districts. All three of the surrounding Republican incumbents -- Brat, Rigell, and Forbes -- won by close to 60% majorities in 2014. Sure, more minority voters in any of those districts might encourage stronger Democratic candidates and more state and national support for their campaigns. But 60% is a long way from 49%. And while the Republicans could draw a map that sacrifices an annoying Tea Partier like Brat, the GOP could also try to keep all three seats by shaving off pieces of each. The courts might like such a conservative course, one that would prevent them from being accused of restructuring a state's Congressional delegation.
Norm Leahy and Paul Goldman wrote a nice primer last month in the WaPo, arguing that it was likely that "Democrats win their bet and get a second seat primed for an African American Democrat." Still, this won't affect the fact that the VA electorate is almost evenly split between Republicans and Democrats, while the Congressional delegation is 8 to 3 -- or, in the Dems' wildest dreams, 7 to 4. The state is still going to be artfully carved up to benefit the GOP, and the VA Dems don't seem to have any way to fix that.