The secret plan began unfolding about two weeks ago. Senate Majority Leader Thomas K. Norment Jr. went to Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling with a way to redraw Senate districts and make them more favorable to Republicans. But Bolling rejected the idea, fearing that it would set a bad precedent, according to two people familiar with the meeting but not authorized to discuss it publicly. Bolling, who would be needed to break a tie vote in the evenly divided Senate, also thought the move would so inflame partisan passions that lawmakers would lose sight of such priorities as transportation and education. It presented itself on Inauguration Day, when Virginia Democrats basked in their second straight presidential win and one in particular traveled to Washington to witness President Obama’s swearing-in: Sen. Henry L. Marsh III (D-Richmond).
With the civil rights lawyer, who decades ago argued school desegregation cases and served as Richmond’s first black mayor, away in the District on Monday, Republicans saw their chance. They took up a bill that had been on the calendar for days, only to be passed over every time, and gave it the legislative equivalent of an extreme makeover.
Left over from last year, the original bill called for “technical adjustments” to House district boundaries. On Monday, without hearings or notice, Republicans amended it on the floor so that it also called for far-reaching changes to state Senate districts. The debate on the 36-page amendment was limited to 30 minutes.