That phrase is, of course, the apt description V.O. Key gave Virginia in his political science masterpiece Southern Politics in State and Nation gave to our beloved Commonwealth of Virginia. It is as real today as it has ever been. In a state that about four percent has separated Republicans and Democrats in statewide elections since the 1970s we have a super-majority House of Delegates and an 8-3 Republican majority in the US House delegation. I'm sure that there isn't real reasons for it, I won't dismiss that entirely, but let's be real. Virginia has turned gerrymandering into an art-form. This news brings that legacy back into the fore.
To a certain extent, I believe in the maxim, to the winner go the spoils. Everyone knows going into elections that this is one of the stakes that can be won. But THIS news is interesting and something that has been simmering below the surface for awhile. And not just in Virginia. Across the South African-American law-makers and Republican state legislators have compromised to create majority GOP districts with Democrats packed into majority black districts to ensure black political power. Virginia's 3rd congressional district is an especially butchered piece of business. There really should be two districts, one anchored by Richmond and the other by Newport News. And before Democrats get too giddy, let us not forget the way they sliced and diced Arlington and Alexandria into districts that stretch as far as Loudoun, which dilutes the power of perhaps Virginia's richest and most populous counties. The Democrats did that.
Why is Virginia so afraid of competitive elections? Its been this way since 1895 when Thomas Martin build the first political machine later inherited and perfected by Senator Byrd. Our statewide races have been exciting and a great way to debate our differing views, why has it failed to trickle down? How is it that in a state with 11 congressional districts, only ONE is contested?
I suspect the candidate most worried about this is Randy Forbes, who has been blessed with one of the more generous examples of gerrymandering in recent history. When he ran in the 2001 special elections he defeated Louise Lucas with just over 52% of the vote. When the General Assembly got done with it, Forbes won his nexted competative election in 2004 64-35. The changes in the distrct were, as I recall, large swaths of Democratic precents jammed into Bobby Scott's 3rd. And if the 3rd loses Richmond, does it take from Scott Rigell's district? What about Southside and Robert Hurt's 5th?
A larger argument must also be made for the elimination of the federal oversight of southern states like Virginia for their congressional maps. It only makes the problem worse. By mandating majority-minority districts, it ensures that black leaders will only ever (for the most part) represent black voters. That is a problem. Tell me how that isn't a form of political segregation? Secondly, its hypocritical because other non-southern states do all sorts of chicanery when it comes to race and congressional districts, it's just those states weren't apart of the Confederacy 150 years ago. Ever see what California and New York do with their congressional districts? The goal of this country is that anyone can represent anyone else. We have stunted racial reconciliation in this country by instituting this kind of system. There is a reason why there are so few black statewide elected officials, and its not just white racism. Barack Obama was lucky to lose his 2000 congressional race because if he won, he would have been just another black congressman unable to break through upwards.
As it is, it looks like the Republican General Assembly is going to looking for a way to create a second majority-minority district next year, and that will be interesting. Who has more pull, Forbes, Hurt, or Rigell? Because that is where a Richmond district is going to come out of. And what happens when the quiet political war between the old Richmond Machine and the outside forces that helped Rosalyn Dance win her nomination for the state senate breaks into national view?