Why Some Black Lawmakers Oppose The Redistricting Amendment

Feb 24, 2020

 

Del. Marcia 'Cia' Price, D-Newport News, looks at the vote tally board during the House session at the Capitol.
Credit Steve Helber / AP

 

Republicans in the statehouse are accusing Virginia Democrats of walking back promises to pass redistricting reform. But understanding why there’s resistance from some Democrats on the measure requires going back a year. 

 

In 2019 when a constitutional amendment to create a bipartisan redistricting commission first passed Virginia’s legislature some members of the Legislative Black Caucus voted against it. 

“We have great concerns about having African American representation in the room for redistricting,” said Delegate Lamont Bagby on the floor last year. “And this doesn’t guarantee that.” 

Now, as the amendment goes through the requisite second year of passage, those same lawmakers are still opposed. 

In addition to guaranteeing representation on the redistricting committee, they also want language explicitly protecting minority voting rights baked straight into the amendment. 

“This is not about party for me this is about people,” says Delegate Cia Price.

Price has introduced a legislative alternative that she says fixes those concerns. She’s advocating passage of her legislation as a temporary fix, while giving lawmakers more time to get the amendment right. 

“When we are talking about changing the Constitution in the year 2020, if that does not fully include and protect minorities and communities of color that is not worthy of going into our Virginia Constitution,” says Price. 

Now House leadership is stalling the amendment as they work to hammer out the differences behind the scenes. They have until the end of session to pass the amendment, or alternative legislation, but the delay is opening them up to criticism from all sides. 

Republicans are calling Democrats hypocritical, accusing them of getting cold feet now that they have power. 

“We hope the other side is committed to this process because it doesn’t feel that way anymore,” said Minority Leader Republican Todd Gilbert on the floor last week. 

Then advocates of redistricting reform say there isn’t time to delay. A new process has to pass the legislature this year if it’s to be instituted in time for next year’s redistricting. 

Democrats point out that for years, under Republican leadership, redistricting reform was squashed. 

 

This report, provided by Virginia Public Radio, was made possible with support from the Virginia Education Association.