A key Democratic lawmaker said Tuesday it was “shameful” for Virginia Republicans to take advantage of his absence to push a redistricting plan through the state Senate. State Sen. Henry Marsh III is one of 20 Democratic members of the state Senate, which is currently evenly split between Republicans and Democrats. His attendance at President Obama’s second inauguration Monday — held on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day — allowed Republicans to push though their plan by a vote of 20-19. “I was outraged and I was saddened yesterday afternoon to learn that the Senate Republicans had used my absence to force through radical changes to all 40 Senate districts,” Marsh, a 79-year-old civil rights veteran, said in a statement Tuesday. “I wanted to attend the historic second inauguration of President Obama in person. For Senate Republicans to use my absence to push through a partisan redistricting plan that hurts voters across the state is shameful.”
Republicans, like the redistricting bill’s sponsor, Sen. John Watkins, say the new plan’s purpose is to add an additional majority-black Senate district. Democrats counter the changes would pack African Americans into certain districts so that the surrounding districts would become more Republican.
Marsh said he was “certain that — despite what Republicans may claim — this plan is a massive step backwards for the cause to which I have dedicated my life.”
If Gov. Bob McDonnell (R) signs off on the changes, the feds could look at whether the Republicans’ decision to schedule the vote in Marsh’s absence demonstrates the redistricting plan was racially motivated. McDonnell told reporters on Tuesday the state Senate’s Monday vote wasn’t “a good way to do business,” but did not say whether he would sign the legislation.