Partisan, legislative redistricting, since the dawn of the Republic, has been the bane good-government advocates. Districts drawn to benefit incumbents and the party in power are a disservice to citizens and voters and undermine confidence in the political process. We’ve long advocated Virginia should adopt a nonpartisan — or at least bipartisan — redistricting process, giving the job of redrawing districts for the Virginia Senate, House of Delegates and the U.S. House of Representatives to an independent commission.
The costs of partisan redistricting are high, as we alluded to earlier. Few races are competitive in the general election. Oftentimes, the incumbent faces only token opposition, if he faces any opponent at all. With no robust discussion of the issues pertinent to the particular race, voter turnout is usually on the low side. The public’s cynicism toward politics only increases, leading to a further downward spiral of confidence and indifference. But then there are also the very real monetary costs of partisan redistricting gone bad. And those are costs the taxpayers usually wind up shouldering.
Take the case of redistricting for the state House of Delegates and the U.S. House of Representatives.
House Speaker Bill Howell, a Stafford County Republican, hired a Washington, D.C., law firm — BakerHostetler — to represent the House in both suits. Lead attorney Mark Braden and the firm have billed the state about $84,000 in the state case and about $225,000 in the congressional case. More bills are likely to come in the mail as time drags on.
And who’s responsible for them? That’s right, the beleaguered, hardworking, Virginia taxpayer.