Win tickets to see the smash hit musical Mamma Mia at the Roanoke Civic Center. Two winners will each receive four tickets!
Tuesday, January 29, 2013
Lordy, the cynicism about Richmond is running rampant these days. Much of it has to do with recent election-related actions that have raised many eyebrows.
One of the big ones is the surprise move by Republicans to redistrict the evenly-divided Virginia Senate in a way that could help the GOP gain control in the next election. The last redistricting happened only two years ago, and traditionally it occurs once per decade.
In an interesting touch, Republicans sprang the new map on Martin Luther King Jr. Day. The Democrats were unable to block it because a key senator was attending President Barack Obama’s inauguration in Washington.
Many explanations have been offered for what looked like a naked power grab timed as cynically as it could be.
One of the most candid came from Sen. Ralph Smith, R-Bedford County . Even if you don’t agree with the way he votes, Smith is one of the straightest shooters in the General Assembly. Also, he’s probably been redistricted more than any lawmaker in Virginia history.
When I asked Smith about his vote for the new map, he said it was retribution for the GOP-unfriendly map the Democrats drew a couple of years ago. That moved him out of his own district. He added: “For the other side to squeal about this is hypocritical.”
“That was nothing more than spite, that’s what they did to me,” Smith said. With the new map, “you could argue retaliation.” Tit for tat, so to speak. It’s real.
The most unreal explanation came from Sen. Bill Stanley, R-Franklin County . It was in a legislative newsletter he sent out this past Sunday, in which he complained, “Most of the news reports, however, have only been telling part of the story.”
Stanley wrote that the Democrat-drawn districts were uncompact, unbalanced in terms of population and split too many localities. But then he offered the big reason redistricting was right and necessary and just. I’m quoting his newsletter exactly.
“It was essential, however, that one deficiency in particular be rectified to ensure Virginia’s full compliance with the provisions of the Voting Rights Act,” Stanley wrote.”In 1991, Virginia had two African-American majority-minority Senate districts, which the Act requires where there is a large enough minority population in a reasonably compact area.
“In the 1991 redistricting, Gov. Doug Wilder insisted that the number of majority-minority districts be increased from two to five. Twenty-two years later, there are still five such districts, even though the population is sufficient to create a sixth.
“The new plan corrects this deficiency and creates the sixth African-American majority-minority Senate district. By doing so, the plan inoculates Virginia from potentially costly and unnecessary litigation under potential further violations of the provisions of the Voting Rights Act.”
Please think long and hard about the implications of that. Because Stanley wants voters to see the new map as a Republican display of racial tolerance and respect for minority voting rights.
In other words, the Republicans are looking out for black voters — who by the way hardly ever vote for Republicans — in an effort to ensure their voting rights aren’t diluted.
Stanley doesn’t mention that every black senator who voted on the measure voted against it. It sounds like he is suggesting that Senate Republicans know better what’s best for those senators’ constituents than the senators do.
Oh and by the way, Republicans are likely to gain control of the Senate. Right.
I called Stanley on Monday to ask him about this. His office took a message. His cell phone voicemail was full.
I wanted to know if he thought his black colleagues in the Senate were so unable to look out for minority voting interests that the all-white Senate Republican caucus had to do it for them.
I also wanted to know: Did he write that newsletter with a straight face, or was he howling like a hyena?
Perneller Chubb-Wilson , one of the wisest and feistiest women in town, isn’t buying it a bit. She’s the founder of Roanoke’s chapter of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, and she knows a thing or two about voting rights.
“Hmph!” she replied when I asked her about the new map last week. “I’ve never seen the Republican Party act like they’re acting now. It’s a disgrace.”
Republican Gov. Bob McDonnell has criticized the plan. Republican Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling told GOP senators he wanted nothing to do with it. Candidly, Sen. Ralph Smith says he voted with retribution in mind.
Who are you going to trust on this one — those four? Or Sen. Bill Stanley, the new champion of black voting rights in the Virginia General Assembly?
Weather JournalBreather before next wintry system