One out of every five Virginians in the birthplace of English America are black – disproportionally more than the one out eight people nationwide who are African American. It is therefore ludicrous that, since 2010, even more black people per capita were packed into US Representative Robert C “Bobby” Scott’s already predominantly black district. That district, three federal judges declared on Tuesday, was gerrymandered, and they ordered the Virginia General Assembly to redraw the boundaries in 2015. But elected officials have forfeited their chances to do that job competently. It does not matter whether Republicans or Democrats hold the power; both sides have been guilty over decades of abusing voters by gerrymandering districts. In the 21st century, voters don’t pick their elected officials; politicians pick their voters. This time, a nonpartisan commission should draw the congressional boundaries.
In 2011, I attended a public hearing about exactly such a commission in Norfolk, Virginia. The officials testifying made constructive suggestions and politicians in the audience nodded approvingly. But the commission had no authority, so the redistricting recommendations were essentially ignored and the politicians did what too many politicians always do: try to stop black people from voting. The result was – and always is – polarized politics: too many extreme conservative or extreme liberal districts with leaders who are allergic to compromise or common ground.
Toxic redistricting is so foul that Rep Eric Cantor was jettisoned from his Richmond-area district this summer by a Tea Party challenger. Why? The former House majority leader had the nerve to attempt to suggest a compromise with the Obama White House over a minor immigration policy issue. Eric Cantor the conservative was no longer conservative enough for the 7th Congressional District.
Congressional districts also need competition – the very element snuffed out by political pros committed to protecting incumbents through gerrymandering.