Not all the winners and losers in last week’s election were on the ballot. Here are some of the others:
1. Reps. Ben Cline, R-Botetourt County; Morgan Griffith, R-Salem, and Rep.-elect Bob Good, R-Campbell County: Winners. OK, all three were on the ballot and all three won but it’s not their 2020 election campaigns that made them winners — it was the passage of the state constitutional amendment that sets up a bipartisan commission to redraw district lines after this year’s census numbers are in. Here’s why that’s good for them: If the amendment hadn’t passed, then the majority party in the General Assembly — Democrats — would have had the sole power to draw the lines. Democrats would have surely looked at Cline in Botetourt County and Good in Campbell County with just one county — Bedford — between them and tried to figure a way to draw them into the same district. They could have even done so with a straight face because Cline’s 6th District has historically included Lynchburg so adding neighboring Campbell County wouldn’t require drawing any unusually shaped lines. With a little bit more gerrymandering, Democrats could have drawn all three Republicans into a single district, presumably knocking out two of them. That may not have led to the election of more Democrats — it’s hard, if not impossible, to draw a Democratic district outside the urban crescent — but Democrats could have still had some sport with three Republican congressmen who all live relatively close to one another.
Instead, Democrats and Republicans will be forced to collaborate on an evenly matched redistricting commission. Republicans surely wouldn’t sign off on any plan that endangered one of those lawmakers — just as Democrats wouldn’t sign off on any plan that put Democratic representatives at risk. We have no idea what those districts will look like but it seems safe to say that come 2022 Cline, Good and Griffith all will have districts to run in. (If voters want a truly nonpartisan redistricting commission, they’re probably out of luck. Even in the most ideal of political circumstances, the best the General Assembly could come up with was a plan that makes sure both parties are represented on the commission. Neither party was willing to let go completely.)
2. Rural Virginians: Losers. It’s not just that rural Virginia voted for a candidate — President Donald Trump — who lost the state election and, ultimately, the national election. It’s that we saw the sharp divide in American politics grow even wider. Democrats increased their margins in metro areas; Republicans increased theirs in rural areas. That wasn’t a good trade for Republicans in the final tallies and that kind of polarization can’t be good for the nation’s civic health — no matter which side wins. However, it’s particularly bad for rural areas. Why? Because in Virginia they are in the minority. That geographical polarization may not matter in a rural state such as North Dakota, but in Virginia rural areas are at the mercy of state legislators from the urban crescent, particularly Northern Virginia. There had been some mild speculation before the election about whether Joe Biden might be able to erode Trump’s support in rural areas, even by just a few percentage points. He didn’t. Instead, things went the other way.
Democrats didn’t have much electoral reason to care about rural Virginia before the election; they have even fewer reasons now. Politically, rural Virginia is a lost cause for Democrats. It has been for quite a while now but this election certainly sealed the deal in an emphatic fashion. That won’t be helpful when it comes to rural school systems making the case that they need more state funding. Rural areas making the case about school disparities — or anything else — will have to depend completely on the generosity of suburban Democrats because, to put it bluntly, there’s no political reason why Democrats should care about rural Virginia.
3. Confederate statues: Winners. Voters in six counties were asked whether they wanted to move their Confederate statues. All six said no by firm margins — from 55%-45% in Charles City county to 87.4%-12.6% in Tazewell County. Those votes will likely have repercussions beyond those counties. It’s hard to imagine the boards of zupervisors in other rural counties voting to move their statues when they’ve voters express themselves so clearly in other counties. If Charles City County — a county that’s 47% Black and only 41% white, a county that voted 59% for Biden — won’t vote to move its Confederate statues, what rural county will?
The first test case will come in Botetourt County in January. Botetourt is a county that voted nearly 71.5% for Trump, a county where there are four Republican supervisors and one independent who was previously elected as a Republican. However, in October, a committee headed by one of those supervisors recommended moving the Confederate monument that stands in front of the courthouse. That monument is noteworthy because its inscription includes a reference to “the dark Reconstruction years.” That’s some clever political propaganda from 1904, the year the statue was erected — because those Reconstruction years in Virginia weren’t quite as dark as revisionist history taught a generation of school children they were. On the contrary the Reconstruction years saw Virginia adopt a constitution that was quite progressive for its day — it extended the right to vote to Black men, it mandated public schools, and it required elected local governments (previously county boards had been appointed). The statue went up two years after the state replaced that constitution for the express purpose of denying Blacks the right to vote.
That means the coming vote by the Botetourt supervisors won’t simply be about an obelisk that memorializes Confederate dead but whether today’s supervisors want to associate themselves with a monument that effectively denounces civil rights. Will those three words give Botetourt the rationale to move the statue when voter sentiment on more conventional Confederate statues is clearly running the other direction?
Catch the latest in Opinion
Get opinion pieces, letters and editorials sent directly to your inbox weekly!