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'I think our work here is done.' Virginia's redistricting commission staring at failure; co-chair Harris resigns

'I think our work here is done.' Virginia's redistricting commission staring at failure; co-chair Harris resigns

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Sen. Mamie Locke, D-Hampton (from left), Greta Harris of Richmond and Mackenzie Babichenko of Hanover County attended an August redistricting commission meeting. Harris and Babichenko are the commission’s co-chairs.

Virginia Redistricting: Here's why it matters

RICHMOND — Virginia's redistricting commission was tasked with drawing the state's political districts in what was pitched as an effort to end gerrymandering.

Friday, with mere hours left to find compromise, the commission appears to be stuck at a death-dealing impasse. 

The bipartisan panel of eight citizen members and eight legislators — which the state's voters established by approving a referendum last November — faces a Sunday deadline to agree on maps of boundaries for the House of Delegates and state Senate.

But the commission's record of splitting along party lines on critical decisions continued on Friday, when the panel of eight citizen members and eight legislators could not coalesce around a single map for the House or Senate — the starting point to start working toward a compromise. 

Democrats proposed that the commission unite around the Democrat-drawn House map and GOP-drawn Senate map as a starting point for more productive discussions, following weeks of work on separate sets of maps from each party. Republicans could only get behind the GOP-drawn Senate map as a starting point, arguing that the latest version of the Democratic map was only shared with them and the public Friday morning. 

After two failed party-line votes, co-chair Greta Harris said the commission had met its end. Mackenzie Babichenko, a Republican citizen member, is now the sole chair. 

"I think our work here is done. And what a shame it is," Harris said. "I really don't see the need for us to continue. We gave it a shot."

Moments later, Harris resigned from the commission, leaving the room and thus bringing the meeting to an end because the required number of commissioners was not present. 

Several Democrats echoed Harris' comments, taking a shot at Republican members by arguing that they were unwilling to compromise.

Sen. Mamie Locke, D-Hampton, who had spent years advocating for a redistricting commission and rallied her caucus in the Senate to support its creation, said the commission "abandoned our own opportunity" to arrive at fair maps. 

Locke said the process began to fall apart when the commission decided to hire separate Republican and Democratic staffers to offer counsel and draw the maps. 

Several Republicans on the commission, along with Sen. George Barker, D-Fairfax, insisted that the commission could continue working on the Senate maps and find compromise. 

Sen. Bill Stanley, R-Franklin, said impasses were common and urged the commission to keep working. Sean Kumar, a Democratic citizen member, said Stanley's speech about optimism did not match actions by Republicans to compromise on a path forward. 

It's unclear whether the commission will return tomorrow for its tentative meeting at 9 a.m. Enough Democrats and Republicans would have to agree to meet short one Democratic member, meaning Republicans could have a controlling majority on the body. 


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