If I were a betting kind of guy, and I am, I’d lay odds that there was a good bit of gerrymandering going on in the map-making room of this year’s redistricting effort – certainly more than what Republicans are admitting.
The way West Virginia handles the process, which comes around every 10 years after a U.S. Census tabulates its count, is to leave pencils for politicians to draw the lines, which, of course, is an obvious conflict of interest.
And while it may be convenient for Republicans to say that district lines were drawn without regard for a legislator’s address, well, Del. Brandon Steele from down here in our neck of the woods shattered that quaint and silly notion, admitting one particular district was adjusted to accommodate a fellow Republican, Caleb Hanna who is Black, so that he would not have to go out knocking on doors and asking for votes in a district thick with members of the National Alliance, a group that calls for the creation of an all-white homeland and the eradication of Jews and other races.
No word as of this writing what wisdom and comfort Steele would share with the Blacks who did not get the Hanna exemption.
The point being, once politicians start moving political lines on a map, it is de facto gerrymandering. Not that the Supreme Court gives a whit. In a 5-4 decision, along traditional conservative-liberal ideological sides in 2019, the Supreme Court ruled that partisan redistricting is a political question – not reviewable by federal courts.
And, so, here we are, in Mad Max territory where there are no rules, no oversight of justice, of fair play, where extreme partisan aggression is the proper posture.
And you wonder what’s wrong with our country?
Listen, this is not an issue leveraged only by Republicans. History can tell stories of how both major political parties are just fine with attempting – and succeeding – to rig the rules toward their own benefit.
And with the Supreme Court giving them carte blanche to do just that?
There’s no getting that horse back in the barn.
Hey, as it was, this was no easy task.
A 2018 state law required the current 67 House of Delegates districts to be divided into 100 single-member districts, which, as a concept, makes sense. More shared interests, concerns and values are found among a smaller slice of the populace, making it more convenient for a political representative to be responsive to those who put him or her in office and for those once minority concerns to get a hearing in Charleston.
Trouble is, politicians were drawing the lines. As a result, some cities and whole counties got sliced and diced and pureed. The delegate district map for Martinsburg, by way of one such example, filets the city into four delegate districts, with each stretching out into more rural areas. The city, given its population, could have remained whole, a district unto itself. Again, the odds of sharing common purpose in such a scenario have now been weakened for the sake, plain and simple, of keeping a seat off of the Democratic side of the board.
The same sad redistricting narrative fits for what happened in Greenbrier County, too, where the progressive little college town of Lewisburg was split right down its spine of Highway 219. Each side of the street is now shared in opposite directions with more rural reaches, again sapping the political vitality, the bonds and common cause of the city and people and further weakening the Democratic hand, there.
There are other trouble spots on the map, too – in Marshall and Wetzel counties, Shepherdstown, Charleston and Huntington among others – where obvious gerrymandering was at play.
Here’s the deal: West Virginia is one of 10 states where lawmakers control the redistricting process and draw the lines – knowing full well where every legislator lives and the ramifications of splitting such cities as Lewisburg and Martinsburg. The state could, if it wanted to do the right thing and mix in a modicum of credibility, assign the redistricting chore to a politically independent commission.
The Republicans have a super majority and they will draw those lines however they darn well please.
And you can take that to the bank.
— J. Damon Cain is the editor of The Register-Herald. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.