Slay The Dragon is now available On Demand from 16 different streaming services. This documentary shines a light on gerrymandering — the practice of redrawing electoral maps to serve a single party — and the threat it poses to our democracy and the ordinary citizens who are fighting back.
SLAY THE DRAGON follows a handful of citizens’ groups in Michigan and Wisconsin, outraged by what they see as an attack on the core democratic principle that every person’s vote should count equally, as they battle party operatives and an entrenched political establishment to fix a broken system. It features our own Katie Fahey as she lead Voters Not Politicians to defeat gerrymandering in Michigan. The movie focuses on the 2010 redistricting cycle, and gerrymandering is a practice that has been used by both Democrat and Republican parties for decades in America.
See also a podcast with Katie Fahey about her experience leading a grassroots movement in Michigan to end gerrymandering.
Click here to register Sierra Club Grassroots Conversation: Environmental Victories
Date and Time: Thu, Apr 2, 2020 6:00 PM - 8:00 PM(Local Time)
Add to Calendar
Organized By: Virginia Chapter
Event Organizers: Tim Cywinski tim.cywinski@... 5402725358
State lawmakers passed groundbreaking environmental legislation in the 2020 General Assembly Session. Let's have a conversation about how new environmental and climate laws will impact Virginia's future. This interactive webinar will feature speakers breaking down important legislation passed by the GA and how they will impact the lives of Virginians.
Speakers Include: - Kate Addleson, Director of the Virginia Chapter - Bob Shippee, Legislative Committee Chair - Ivy Main, Renewable Energy Chair and Beyond Coal Campaign Leadership Member - Karen Campblin, Transportation Chair and Green New Deal Virginia Co-Chair - Steve Carter-Lovejoy, Water Quality and Coal Ash Chair - Mary-Stuart Torbeck, Lead Organizer, Virginia Chapter - Jessica Sims, Lead Pipelines Organizer, Virginia Chapter
We invite all attendees to ask questions throughout the presentation as well as participate in the open discussion period at the end.
The 2020 General Assembly session proved that the climate movement is growing stronger in Virginia. Learn more about how far we've come and where we are going by signing up for the Legislative Victories virtual forum today!
Join the National Constitution Center this Friday, April 3, for a timely conversation between renowned documentarian Ken Burns and Center President and CEO Jeffrey Rosen. Their discussion onThe Constitution in Times of Crisis will be available live for students, teachers, and parents on Zoom.
For the full schedule of free, live, interactive constitutional classes, as well as videos, podcasts, and more, visit the Interactive Constitution.
The National Constitution Center is now offering a series of virtual America’s Town Hall programs. Join these programs from your home computer, laptop, or any mobile device by registering below.
Linda Chervinsky and Edward Larson on George Washington
April 2 | 7 p.m. EDT
Join acclaimed historians Lindsay Chervinsky and Edward Larson for a virtual America's Town Hall program exploring the figure at the center of their most recent books, The Cabinet: George Washington and the Creation of an American Institutionand Franklin & Washington: The Founding Partnership. Chervinsky and Larson discuss the legacy of George Washington, one of the most revered figures of the founding era, and the origins of the government he helped to create. Jeffrey Rosen, president and CEO of the National Constitution Center, moderates.
In-person programs have been suspended while the National Constitution Center building is closed. Refunds for these upcoming events will be issued automatically to guests who have purchased tickets. Check out our full list of upcoming Town Hall programs, with additional ones to be announced.
New Remote Learning Programs from the National Constitution Center
In the Center's Scholar Exchanges, students are connected with a constitutional scholar for a virtual interactive class about the Constitution. All sessions are available via Zoom and can be accessed from home computer, laptop, or phone. View the full schedule here.
Teachers can also request a private exchange to be held with a scholar and just their classes. To schedule, teachers can fill out this form and someone from the Center will help arrange. Private sessions take place on Mondays and Tuesdays.
New Online Teacher Professional Development Programs
Teachers can join us on Mondays from 12-12:20 p.m. for open-source professional development programs. These programs highlight the Center’s free, online resources and strategies to support constitutional literacy education in the classroom and remotely. Online professional development programs are facilitated by a member of the Center’s education team and hosted on Zoom. Each week features different resources that reflect the topic of that week’s Scholar Exchanges. For more information and to register, click here.
Yes, all campaign finance bills died a nasty death in the Virginia General Assembly but advocacy is still continuing and we need your help!If you're interested in this issue, please fill out this quick two question surveywhich will allow us to strategically target individual legislators.
Our Virginia chapter of America Promise continues to build relationships with groups around the state to highlight the corrosive impact of money on our elections, our public officials and public policies.Campaign finance reform is the most important issue of our time, as it is the root cause of a government that is no longer responsive to the people. Because of a weak campaign finance legal structure in Virginia, Virginia ranks among the bottom of all fifty states in both transparency of and accountability for campaign finance contributions and expenditures, and ethical enforcement. The Citizens United ruling, combined with lax campaign finance laws in Virginia, presents a serious and direct threat to Virginians’ commitment to good government, civic and civil discourse, and broad participation in local decision-making.
So, let's plan to begin an earlier targeting of legislators to build advocacy so that the bills get out of the Privileges and Elections committees next year. With your help, we will work to build grassroots advocacy in communities across Virginia and encourage them to pass local resolutions supporting getting money out of politics. Interested in how resolutions are passed? Listen to our recent conversation with Sean Barnett, who with Move to Amend in 2013, got 4 communities in Virginia (Alexandria, Arlington, Charlottesville, and Falls Church) to pass such resolutions. We're also focusing on 1) getting a state resolution passed supporting a constitutional amendment overturning Citizens United, making Virginia the 20th state to do so, and 2) identifying legislative champions on ethics reform; working with the Coalition for Integrity (Shruti and Alex).
Part of our strategy is now to get the Fairfax Board of Supervisors, and other cities and countries around the state to pass resolutions supporting campaign finance reform and getting big money out of politics. Many of the legislators who voted against some of the campaign finance bills represent parts of Fairfax County. We will be organizing a discussion with Wisconsin United to Amend in the upcoming weeks to learn their lessons on how to influence legislators through local resolutions.
Please help! If you have any questions, contact Nancy Morgan, coordinator of the VA chapter of American Promise at nancyruthmorgan@...
From the Fulcrum, an article that explains how six of the most influential democracy reform groups are at the core of a new coalition, dubbed Fix the System, with the goal of putting more conservative and corporate muscle behind a cause that's generally dominated by progressives.
This coalition includes RepresentUS and Unite America, two members of our Virginia Swamp Busters group.
We're building a movement against the most intricate infrastructure of political influence in the country. The bad news? This means having to track and expose hundreds of Koch-funded university programs, think-tanks, advocacy organizations, legislators, and judges working at the local, state, and federal levels. Yikes! The good news? We can learn skills to make this work a little easier, and there are incredible researchers doing a lot of this work for us already!
Next week we're bringing in David Armiak, Research Director at the Center for Media and Democracy, to teach us how to better incorporate opposition research into our campus and community-based campaigns. On this webinar, participants will:
Become more familiar with the universities, state-based think-tanks, advocacy organizations, and legislators involved in moving Koch's agenda forward;
Learn about the research and resources that already exists to inform and deepen your local campaigns;
Receive an overview of basic opposition research skills experts use to conduct investigations and connect the dots;
Identify ways to leverage research produced by UnKoch's partners to inform your grassroots base and escalate your local campaigns!
This webinar is designed with campus AND community advocates in mind. Whether you're trying to kick Koch off of your campus or wanting to deepen your local or state-based advocacy by targeting Koch, this webinar is for you. Register to join us next Tuesday at 2pm ET!
UnKoch My Campus is a cooperative campaign dedicated to disrupting corporate influence on campuses nationwide by equipping campus activists with education, skills, and ecosystems of solidarity. The Koch network is leveraging its donations to colleges and universities to bolster its corporate agenda to halt action on climate change, put hundreds of thousands of people in prison, deny millions of people healthcare, and strip rights and wages from workers globally. We're building a mass movement of young people who are dedicated to disrupting this harm.
Essential Information C/O UnKoch My Campus (EIN 52-1299631) P.O. Box 19405 | Washington, District of Columbia 20036 (501) 725-1251 | email@example.com
David Denham is an organizer for social justice with a long track record of building strong alliances and effecting real change. As the head of the cross-partisan Represent Roanoke Valley/the Clean Money Squad, he has been a strong advocate for anti-corruption reform in Virginia for the past 6 years. Listen to the podcast to learn about his recent success mobilizing over 1000 RepresentUS volunteers nationwide in support of the constitutional amendment on redistricting reform. David also talks about his efforts to sign up 26 candidates for the legislature to take an anti-corruption pledge, collaborating with other groups like Activate Virginia and Clean Virginia. In addition, David talks about his civil disobedience experience and his work with the Poor People's Campaign. David offers a number of lessons for other grassroots democratic reform organizations active in Virginia. Listen in!
Interested in training on the constitution? Tune in today at 1 pm.
TUNE IN: Learners of all ages can continue their constitutional learning online with LIVE programming.
All streaming will be available through Zoom, and accessible on a home computer, laptop, or phone. Viewers can register at the Zoom link copied below each date or refresh this page at the scheduled program time to watch the livestream. For the full list of upcoming classes, check out the schedule.
Check back here for updates about live virtual America's Town Hall programs.
Wednesday March 25: First Amendment: Freedom of Speech and the Press
Join us for our first Virtual Post Legislative Forum.
Thursday March 26 at 7 PM Eastern
We have commitments so far from Sen. Favola and Delegates Lopez and Hope but we are hoping for more to join us.
If you have never done a virtual meeting on Zoom, it is quite easy. Cut and paste this link into your web browser:
(If you have never done Zoom before you will be guided through a simple download.)
If you prefer to join by audio call 929 205 6099 to join in.
WE NEED YOUR QUESTIONS:
Our host, Seema Jain, will ask questions as she always does, but we are asking you to email them to us in advance. EMAIL to Lwvarlingtonva@....
There is a "chat" feature on Zoom so if a question comes to you during the event you can enter but we really need to have questions as much in advance as possible.
The work of the League continues- in just a different form.
Hope to see and or hear you then!
Stay safe and well.
Topic: Virtual post legislative session Time: Mar 26, 2020 07:00 PM Eastern Time (US and Canada)
Join Zoom Meeting https://zoom.us/j/422396259
Meeting ID: 422 396 259
One tap mobile +19292056099,,422396259# US (New York) +13126266799,,422396259# US (Chicago)
Dial by your location +1 929 205 6099 US (New York) +1 312 626 6799 US (Chicago) +1 301 715 8592 US +1 346 248 7799 US (Houston) +1 669 900 6833 US (San Jose) +1 253 215 8782 US Meeting ID: 422 396 259 Find your local number: https://zoom.us/u/aeFsWDEKL
My friend Larry Garber sent me the note below and I am keen to draw it to your attention as the first webinar he is holding is on March 23 ....I know that some of you are keenly interested in corruption and the US election systems and so this may be of particular interest to you.
Best wishes, Frank Vogl
Family and Friends (with apologies to those who have already received this e-mail),
I an writing to let you know about a fantastic organization whose Board of Directors I am proud to serve on. Election Reformers Network (ERN) was founded in 2017 by a group of friends and former colleagues from organizations that monitor elections and support democracy overseas. ERN leverages this background to advance practical, nonpartisan reforms that can move our democracy toward a more representative elections system and less partisan involvement in election administration.
Since forming, ERN activities have included support for independent redistricting ballot initiatives, developing Electoral College reform alternatives, and advocating for legislative elections on the basis of multi-member districts using ranked choice voting. Currently, ERN is leading a project to assess conflicts of interest among the chief election officers responsible for administering the elections in the 50 states and the District of Columbia.
A couple of upcoming programs that may be of interest to you:
March 23 webinar on the Role States in Play in Anti-Gerrymandering(register here)
March 25 webinar on Electoral College Reform (register here)
ERN is a 501c3 organization with a politically diverse governing Board and Advisory Council. Please click here for more information about the organization and here to receive news and updates from the organization (no obligations required). And once you have an opportunity to peruse the materials, I would welcome your thoughts on how we can use our focus on structural election reforms to improve our democracy.
Registered voters in Virginia can vote by mail by requesting an absentee ballot. Find out how to get your absentee ballot so you can vote at home and keep you and your family safe. RepresentUS just built a new tool to help you know your options for voting at home during the coronavirus pandemic, so you and your family can stay safe and still participate in this election. Here is the link :
This week The People hosted a conversation among representatives from leading reform organizations across the state to share our 2020 and 2021 priorities and to explore ways to collaborate and create community on line. Represent Roanoke Valley/Clean Money Squad, One Virginia 2021, and American Promise were among the organizations involved.
Over the next several months, The People is focused on reaching out to Virginians from across the state, engaging in online town halls to identify people who want to engage with reform, and to educate and also learn how people see the reform priorities.
“On the call, we began to explore ways that we can collaborate. We want to help develop community with online tools, to listen, raise awareness and also give people the opportunity to act. We find that people are frustrated, do not feel heard, and want to know more about solutions. Many people we meet might not be connected to the organizations championing the issue they are most excited about, and we can help that connection happen,” shares Katie Fahey.
This has been a crazy and exciting General Assembly session! VAPLAN has been tracking bills all session, and recording votes. For the last two years since we began, we have put together a cross-issue legislative scorecard, ranking legislators based on how progressively they voted. Although special interest groups often create scorecards for particular issues like guns, the environment, or business, ours is the only one we’ve seen that covers multiple legislative areas to measure overall progressiveness. We’re happy to announce the third annual VAPLAN legislative scorecard! Before we get to the scores, a few important caveats are in order:
Our list of included bills is not necessarily a comprehensive list of all progressive bills—our strategy is typically to focus on bills that are not straight party-line votes (either in committees or on the floor), to enable us to tease out differences among Democrats and differences among Republicans.
We discovered this year in particular that a number of bills were "continued" -- which we consider similar to killing -- by unrecorded voice vote in House (sub)committees as well as in the Senate Rules Committee. Often this included patrons voting to continue their own bills. Additionally, some House (sub)committees left a number of bills behind without docketing them or bringing them up for vote—many closely-watched bills died in this manner this year, such as banning the death penalty for those with severe mental illness, right to work repeal, the ban on campaign donations from public utilities, etc.
A simple scorecard is also unable to capture lousy amendments that water down a bill and votes on these amendments, unspoken or backroom deals to water down bills, as well as heroic attempts to save bills from dying, all of which were especially important this year. In other words, the scorecard mainly reflects votes on final versions of bills, which do not necessarily match what votes might have been cast on more or less progressive versions of these bills.
Because legislators vary in the number of opportunities to vote on bills depending on their committee assignments, the scorecard is sometimes unduly affected by one unprogressive vote. A legislator on many committees can make up for that vote more easily, while one on few committees or less contentious committees (i.e. Cities, Counties and Towns) has a more difficult time overcoming that vote. Thus, while the rankings approximately measure how progressive legislators are, it’s probably better to think of them as ballpark ranges of progressiveness—the difference between #8 and #9 isn’t likely significant, but the difference between #8 and #20 probably is.
Lastly, and most importantly, a scorecard does not measure anything other than votes on a set of bills—it does not measure extremely important legislative skills, like ability to build a coalition to get bills through, writing good bills, presenting your bills well in committee, ability to find compromises to reduce opposition, mentoring younger members, helping save or block bills in committee, being a good committee chair, etc. This is a fun and useful tool, but not a complete measure of the quality of legislators.
Without further ado, here are the highlights. Full scores are available here.
Top Scores in the House:
1. Patrick Hope (HD-47) 2. Ibraheem Samirah (HD-86) 3. (tie) Marcus Simon (HD-53) and Don Scott (HD-80) 5. Mark Levine (HD-45) 6. Josh Cole (HD-28) 7. Jay Jones (HD-89) 8. Lashrecse Aird (HD-63) 9. Cia Price (HD-95) 10. Elizabeth Guzman (HD-31)
Top Senate Scores:
Ghazala Hashmi (SD-10)
Jennifer Boysko (SD-33)
Joe Morrissey (SD-16)
Barbara Favola (SD-31)
Jeremy McPike (SD-29)
Scott Surovell (SD-36)
Least Progressive Delegates:
91. Mark Cole (HD-88) 92. Rob Bell (HD-58) 93. Charles Poindexter (HD-9) 94. Emily Brewer (HD-64) 95. (tie) Kathy Byron (HD-22) and Margaret Ransone (HD-99) 97. Todd Gilbert (HD-15) 98. (tie) Ronnie Campbell (HD-24), Matt Fariss (HD-59), Kirk Cox (HD-66)
Least Progressive Senators:
35. Mark Peake (SD-22) 36. Bill DeSteph (SD-8) 37. (tie) Frank Ruff (SD-15) and Steve Newman (SD-28) 39. Amanda Chase (SD-11) 40. Mark Obenshain (SD-26)
The Delegates voting closest to the center are Democrats David Bulova (HD37), Mike Mullin (HD-93), and Steve Heretick (HD-79); and Republicans Glenn Davis (HD-84), Carrie Coyner (HD-62), and Terry Kilgore (HD1). In the Senate, the centrists were Democrat Chap Petersen (D-34), and Republicans Dunnavant (R-12), Hanger (R-24), and Vogel (R-27)—the exact same squad as in last year’s scorecard.
The scorecard is calculated from the votes on 89 bills that came up this year, on topics from the environment, campaign finance reform, criminal justice, gun violence prevention, LGBTQ discrimination, and more. For every progressive vote a legislator cast on a bill (either in subcommittee, committee, or on the floor, depending on where the last vote was taken), they scored one point; for every non-progressive vote, -1. Additionally, we assigned plus or minus points for signaling intent to vote by co-sponsoring a bill. Any bill that the legislator had no vote on (either from abstaining, absence without recording intended vote, or from not being on the committee where the bill was voted on) is scored a zero.
The legislator’s total score is the sum of all the bill scores, divided by the number of bills that he or she could have cast a vote on, so that the final score measures the percent of votes cast on these bills that were progressive. The measure ranges from 1 (all votes cast were progressive) to -1 (no progressive votes were cast).
If you liked what you saw this session, and/or you like what you see summarized here in the scorecard, take a minute to contact your legislators and let them know how much you appreciate their work. Contact information for Delegates and Senators can be found HERE; if you aren't sure who represents you, put your address in HERE to find out.
Yup! Like Stephen Covey says, "Keep First Things First!" Aren't we just kidding ourselves to think we will ever make any real gains until we First Fix our Democracy? Getting all those running for public office to endorse the American Anti-Corruption Act https://anticorruptionact.org/ would be a great first step to Fix our Democracy, don't you agree? Great news! We already have a few 2020 congressional candidates who are endorsing!
Stephen D. Haner's article in today's Washington Post discusses how failure to fix the process first would result in a major revision to the commonwealth's energy economy that again puts consumers last. Haner had recommended 3 fixes: capping campaign contributions, developing a stronger advocacy voice for consumers, and dumping a legislative joint study commission that had proved subservient to the electric utilities. None of them were made.
Haner concludes that "with consumers all but voiceless, unlimited donations continuing from various energy interests, the key regulator neutered and the legislature showing no interest in real discussion between sessions, the new Virginia looks much like the old one."
On Thursday March 12th, we are calling for a digital day of action to mark the 100 days, and are asking you to use your social networks to urge people to register, using our graphics, or another method of your choosing. These upcoming weeks are essential for turn-out and we need everyone to do all they can to get people signed up! We will be sending out final graphics tomorrow with sizing appropriate for Twitter and Instagram.
On the evening of March 12th, at 8:30pm ET, join us for our second monthly National Mobilization Call for June 20, 2020. Register here to join us. You will be able to participate by either tuning intoFacebook Live or simply using the conference call service Zoom.
On Thursday evening, we will hear important developments in our organizing strategies for June 20, 2020. We will share new mobilizing resources, exciting updates about mobilization commitments and how the Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival is responding to current crises and movements.
Lastly, we wanted to share an important update about the MORE Tour. In light of the recent spread of the Coronavirus and in hopes of helping keep all of our folks safe, we are cancelling all MORE Tour activities for the next 30 days.
“While we are disappointed to not be able to gather, the new coronavirus already is uncovering the issues we had hoped to raise more clearly than our words and actions could have. This public health crisis makes clear how ignoring poor and low-wealth people impacts all of us.” – Rev. Dr. Barber & Rev. Dr. Liz Theoharis
As we have been building out our plans for outreach and action in Virginia, we have been incredibly encouraged and inspired by the work being done in the areas of reform by your respective organizations and movements. I’ve had the pleasure of talking with many of you over the last several months (and most of you have met or had conversations with our ED, Katie Fahey), and Katie and I feel very strongly that the most impactful path forward in Virginia is paved with meaningful partnership. To that end, we are reaching out in hopes of organizing a conversation with all of us at the (virtual) table, to talk plans on the larger scale and figure out ways we can coordinate and support one another and the greater reform movement through collaboration. Attached here a summary that explains more about our thoughts around our strategy, and we’d love to use that as a springboard as we move forward. Because time is of the essence, we’d like to talk this month and have proposed a few dates/times here. This is also an open invitation to any organizations working in the reform space in VA that are interested - so please feel free to share this with anyone that fits that description. Looking forward to hearing your thoughts and discussing in greater detail soon!
This is the last day of session and yesterday evening the constitutional amendment finally passed! We all agree that it is not perfect but it is an important step forward. Another informative article can be found in the Roanoke Times.
Democratic Majority in Virginia Strips Itself of the Power to Draw District Lines
The State Legislature, controlled by Democrats, voted to put a constitutional amendment on the November ballot that would let an independent commission draw district maps.
WASHINGTON — Democrats in Virginia’s State Legislature took a blue-moon political step on Friday and voted to largely strip themselves of the power to draw new political maps next year — maps that could well have locked them into power for a decade. But to say they acted grudgingly is an understatement.
The State House of Delegates voted 54 to 46 to place a constitutional amendment on the November ballot that would establish an independent commission to draw maps in 2021, when population totals from this year’s census will form the basis for redistricting. Separate legislation laying out rules for the panel and its actions was sent to a conference committee and seems certain to be approved later.
Nine Democrats, who hold 55 seats in the 100-seat House, voted in favor of the amendment and 46 opposed it. Only support from the Republican minority ensured that the measure would go to the voters, who are expected to approve it.
That was a marked change from last year’s bipartisanship, when the Legislature approved an identical version of the proposed amendment, the first move in a two-vote process needed to place such measures on the ballot. At the time, Democrats were in the minority in the House, and the amendment passed with overwhelming support from both parties, 85 to 13. Republicans controlled both houses of the Legislature but were widely expected to lose power, which they did, in November.
Many Democrats had made campaign promises to support the amendment on its second vote, and they were under intense pressure to make good on the pledge. The State Senate had earlier voted, 38-2, in favor of the proposed amendment. But passage in the House was uncertain until the final hours, as African-American Democrats raised questions about protections for minority districts and as others simply appeared to get cold feet.
“All of a sudden, the deal that an overwhelming majority of Democrats were willing to sign on to and campaign for in the fall of 2019 is no longer good enough,” said David Daley, an author and senior fellow at the advocacy group FairVote who supported the measure.
Advocates of the amendment nevertheless called its passage a seminal moment. “This is historic for Virginia to take a step forward on changing our broken redistricting system,” said Brian Cannon, the executive director of OneVirginia, a grass-roots group that drove the amendment campaign. “It puts citizens at the table with legislators for the first time ever. It takes it out of the smoky back room and adds sunlight and transparency.”
The proposed amendment creates a 16-member redistricting body composed of eight legislators — four each from the two major parties — and eight citizens. Disputes over boundaries would be settled by a court-appointed special master. If approved by voters, it also would enshrine specific voting-rights protection for minorities into the State Constitution for the first time.
Democrats nationally have sought to capture the high ground on the question of gerrymandering in recent years, as Republican-controlled legislatures drew map after map in the last decade that preserved their holds on power even when voters spurned them.
That said, the leader of the national party’s campaign against gerrymandering, the former Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr., had not publicly supported the Virginia measure. A spokesman, Patrick Rodenbush, said there were concerns that its protections against partisan interference were not strong enough.
On Friday, Mr. Holder said in a statement that he was still concerned about the amendment’s protections for minorities, and said he worried that there would be too little time for an independent panel to be assembled and start work before redistricting begins in early 2021. But debate over alternative amendments “helped bring to light some of its weaknesses, many of which, but not all, have been addressed by enabling legislation.”
The Virginia debate unfolded as Republicans in three other states have moved to roll back ballot initiatives favoring nonpartisan redistricting that voters approved in 2018.
In Missouri, where 60 percent of voters backed a constitutional amendment mandating nonpartisan maps, the Republican-controlled Legislature is pushing a new amendment initiative that would effectively repeal that overhaul. The citizens group that shepherded the first measure to passage, Clean Missouri, has pledged to fight it, calling the proposal “gerrymandering, plain and simple.”
Sean Nicholson, the campaign director for Clean Missouri, predicted that any change the Legislature proposes will be turned down in November. “People voted by an almost two-to-one margin — Republicans, Democrats, independents — to pass this in 2018,” he said in an interview. “One thing we’ve seen is that voters are legitimately angry at the idea of politicians trying to overturn their vote.”
Michigan Republicans first sought to strip state funds from an independent redistricting commission that voters approved, and then filed suit in federal court last July to abolish it, calling the panel “blatantly unconstitutional.”
And in Utah, the anti-gerrymandering group Better Boundaries reached a compromise on a new redistricting procedure with that state’s Republican-controlled Legislature, which was poised to neuter a citizen-passed plan handing political map drawing to an independent panel.
Hi everyone, No word yet on a vote on SJ18, the proposed constitutional amendment. Incredible. if you haven't already called your delegate, it's not too late! I continue to email my Delegate, Mark Levine, but he is opposed to SJ18. But I keep persisting.
Something’s rotten in the state of Virginia. Legislative Democrats are on the verge of scuttling bipartisan redistricting reform and handing themselves unilateral power over the next decade of state legislative and congressional maps — embracing the same partisan gerrymandering that Democrats have so bitterly complained about when Republicans hold complete control.
In a last second power play Thursday, Democratic leaders in the House of Delegates moved to substitute an entirely new constitutional amendment and replace the one that has consistently won big majorities from both sides, and which polls show is supported by more than 70 percent of Virginians.
Their new plan not only bakes in an advantage for Democrats, but it restarts the clock on long-term reform in Virginia — pushing it after the 2021 redistricting cycle. Those maps would then be drawn by — ** checks notes ** — that’s right, the Democrats. Democrats know their new plan can’t pass, even with control of both chambers. It’s pure pretext with the consequence, intentional or not, of short-circuiting the only reform that can.
This is a bad faith move, and Democrats would be howling if Republicans pulled this partisan chicanery in a red state. And after Democrats have talked a good game nationally about fair maps and ending this anti-voter practice, it would be a setback for fair-minded, good government reform efforts nationwide if they walk away from change in the first opportunity the party has to walk the walk. Voters of all sides, across all the states considering reform, will rightly grow more cynical about change as they see this bipartisan deal fail.
Last winter, resounding majorities of both Democrats and Republicans embraced a compromise that would have given citizens a role in drawing maps for the first time ever, a meaningful step forward over politicians drawing their own lines, choosing their own voters, and handing themselves uncompetitive, safe seats for the next decade.
The proposed constitutional amendment cleared the House 83-15, and sailed through the Senate nearly unanimously, on a 39-1 vote. Virginia, however, requires any changes to its Constitution to pass during two consecutive sessions, with identical language, before heading to voters for approval. And in November, Democrats captured both houses of Virginia’s legislature, winning trifecta control of state government.
Now, suddenly, the very redistricting reform that Democratic majorities in both houses embraced — and that many newly elected Democrats who rode a blue wave to power promised to enact — is no longer good enough.
What’s changed? You only need a calendar to see through this partisan ruse. If Democrats can now manufacture flaws in the compromise they overwhelmingly endorsed just 12 months ago, and fail to pass the identical language a second time before the 2020 session ends on Saturday, there won’t be enough time for the ensuing statewide referendum before it’s time to draw new maps in early 2021. Voters — who deserve a chance to weigh in — will not get to decide.
It’s not a coincidence. If the commission is not enacted, control over the new maps reverts to the Democrats. They’ll be able to draw themselves a decade-long advantage. Maybe they’ll start the reform process anew, and maybe they won’t. Either way, any reform would be safely punted all the way to 2031.
The bipartisan compromise may not be perfect, but such is the essence of bipartisan compromise. Politics is the art of the possible. This is the best plan that can pass both houses of Virginia’s legislature, under either party’s control. Neither side likes to give up control of the maps. Virginia lacks the kind of statewide initiative process that allowed reformers in California, Michigan, Missouri and elsewhere to design their ideal and bring it directly to voters.
And so this compromise creates a mapmaking commission that’s evenly divided between legislators and citizens, and a careful process of checks and balance to ensure partisan fairness. But while it’s not completely independent of politics, no state legislature has ever voluntarily handed over more power over redistricting than in this plan.
The substitute amendment, meanwhile, while it does some nice things, doesn’t create a perfect process, either. It would create an 11-member commission that mirrors the state’s “political diversity.” Democrats don’t define what that means, but it’s easy to posit: They want a majority Democratic panel to ensure that this blue-trending state stays that way. (The criteria offers little protection against a commission that’s packed with partisans, as well.)
Democrats would strip the state Supreme Court of its power to appoint two special masters to break a commission gridlock. They insist the state’s highest court is a partisan body. One of the most vocal opponents of the amendment is Del. Mark Levine, who argued that the entire makeup of the high court could have a conservative lean in The Washington Post: “Every current member of the Virginia Supreme Court received a 12-year term from the Republican leadership of the House of Delegates. …Even more troubling, the House of Delegates that chose our Supreme Court was itself constituted via illegal racial gerrymander, according to a decision of the U.S. Supreme Court.”
Nevermind the fact that most of the justices have been elected unanimously — including one who was reappointed, again unanimously (including by Del. Levine), after Democrats took control in January.
If Democrats really believe the court’s integrity to be compromised, why do they keep voting for these justices?
Under their new plan, if nine members can’t agree on a map, two maps with at least majority support will be voted on by the legislature. But if Democrats use the “political diversity” provision and essentially control six members of the commission, and have also drawn the 2021 legislative maps, they’ll be handing themselves a license to gerrymander with no guardrails.
Some Democrats opposed to the compromise have insisted that every word of the amendment must be perfect if it is to enter into Virginia’s constitution. But now they’ve proposed a hurried substitute, weeks into their session, with less than 48 hours now remaining. The compromise was debated amongst legislators and citizens for months.
Democrats have bolstered the amendment through enabling legislation, and several legislators put thoughtful plans on the table that offered clear protections of minority voters — including a guarantee of diversity on the commission. These protections hold the same statutory weight in every step of the commission process as similar bills introduced during this year’s legislative session. These enabling bills co-sponsored by Democratic Sens. Louise Lucas and Mamie Locke are in the process of passing.
If Democrats did not want the amendment they passed last year, they could have prioritized reform weeks ago and worked to improve the amendment before this midnight hour, just as they prioritized the impressive electoral reforms they enacted this session. They could have passed the amendment, trusted the voters to decide, and then started a new amendment process to make it perfect. They did none of these things.
Instead, they chose to stall, run out the clock, and then offer a disingenuous, sneakily partisan, and dead-on-arrival proposal when it was too essentially late to make changes. They wanted to kill the compromise, ensure their own power over the maps and not make their hands dirty. But the mud is now everywhere.
This galling hypocrisy would be rightfully called out if it was being practiced by Republicans in North Carolina, Texas or Wisconsin. These maps are the building blocks of our democracy. They belong to the people. While no compromise pleases everyone, in every way, this one has the endorsement of the most respected non-partisan reform groups. For years now, after the effective GOP gerrymanders of this last cycle, Democrats have proclaimed that they want their ideas to prevail under fair maps. They had their chance. Now democracy itself will pay the price.
Because the next time Democrats say that? No one will believe them.