CHARLESTON – The first drafts of maps outlining what a future might look like without three congressional districts in West Virginia will be available for public review as early as next Wednesday, as lawmakers begin preliminary redistribution work.
The West Virginia Senate Redistribution Committee held an organizational meeting Thursday to approve committee rules, including requiring that any proposed redistribution map be made public for 24 hours before being considered by the committee, which meets again Thursday at 3 p.m.
“I think that’s a really important part of that”, said Senator Charles Trump, R-Morgan, Chairman of the Redistribution Committee and Co-Chair of the Joint Committee on Redistribution.
“What this means is that before this committee acts and votes on a particular card, it will take at least 24 hours, and hopefully we can do a little better than that if the time is right. allows it, so that people can see it and so on and so forth we can post it on the internet on our redistribution website and we’ll get some feedback.
The House of Delegates redistribution committee will hold its own organizational meeting next Thursday at 9 a.m., when members will also review draft maps for new House of Delegates districts and congressional districts.
During discussion Thursday, the Senate Redistribution Committee decided to focus on congressional redistribution first before embarking on changing the boundaries of the state’s 17 senatorial districts.
“I would like us to deal with Congress first and get through what should be an easier process,” said Sen. Eric Tarr, R-Putnam.
“I also agree with the senator from Putnam, that we should start with something easy just to test the waters,” Senator Dave Sypolt, R-Preston, said.
“The senator from Preston is nothing but optimistic”, Trump said. “The choice of the word ‘easy’, I find it very optimistic.
West Virginia has had three congressional districts since 1992, each with approximately 600,000 people. At one time, the state had six congressional districts and one general district. But with West Virginia continuing to lose population since 1950, those districts have slowly shrunk to three.
After the 2020 census, West Virginia’s population fell to 1,793,716 and resulted in the loss of another congressional district. Lawmakers will need to design two congressional districts with about 900,000 residents each.
“I am one of the many West Virgins who are sad to have to go from three to two” Trump said after Thursday’s meeting. “Having three people instead of two representing the people of the state in the US House of Representatives is difficult and bitter. That said, that’s how it is. Our breakdown is what it is, and what we need to do is make the two best districts we can do.
Liz Schindzielorz, adviser to the Senate Redistribution Committee, explained the Congressional redistribution requirements in the United States Constitution, the State Constitution and federal law.
The overriding rule is equality, with each congressional district having roughly the same number of people. The West Virginia Constitution requires congressional districts to be made up of contiguous counties without dividing counties.
“They should be as close as possible to perfect equality”,said Schindzielorz. “There is no numerical or fixed percentage population… to be considered a clear line standard.”
“We have to make them as equal as possible and our state constitution says we cannot divide counties into congressional districts” Trump said. “I hope we won’t consider any map that draws two districts in a way that divides counties into congressional districts. That said, there are a number of different ways to draw them. “
The state constitution also requires that districts be “compact,” defined by the courts as having voters living as close to each other as possible. With a state with two protruding handles, the requirement for compactness has created legal problems in the past. District 2, for example, spans the entire size of the state, from Jackson County in the west to Jefferson County in the east.
Brian Skinner, former legislative attorney and lobbyist at Hartman, Harman and Cosco, said in a blog post Tuesday that courts have forgiven in the past over compactness issues.
“The West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeal, which has the power to review the work of the legislature to ensure it meets constitutional requirements, has in the past given the legislature great flexibility to assess the compactness by itself ”, Skinner wrote.
LINE IN THE SAND
It may seem simple to reduce the congressional districts of West Virginia from three to two, by simply drawing a line north-south or east-west, but the way the two new districts are drawn could affect the regional dynamics of the ‘State of the mountains for decades.
“The redistribution of Congress is the most important political issue for the state of West Virginia right now by a pretty wide margin,” Chris Stirewalt, senior researcher at the American Enterprise Institute and former West Virginia political writer, said last month at the West Virginia Chamber of Commerce annual meeting at the Greenbrier Resort.
At least two in three members of the West Virginia congressional delegation were in the same room when Stirewalt delivered his remarks: 1st District Congressman David McKinley and 3rd District Congressman Carol Miller. Neither was available to comment on this story.
McKinley District includes Monongalia County and Morgantown, one of the two fastest growing regions in the state. 2nd District Congressman Alex Mooney, who did not attend Stirewalt’s speech and was also unavailable to comment on this story, represents a district that includes Berkeley and Jefferson counties, also the region of the fastest growing state.
The Miller District encompasses southern West Virginia, and despite the inclusion of the state’s two largest cities, the capital Charleston and Huntington, its district’s population has declined. Regardless of the next congressional district map, Stirewalt said he will have to find a way to avoid having the two fastest growing areas of the state in one district, but to do so, it will could mean putting two regions with little in common.
“I’m worried about the redistribution of West Virginia because I think it’s going to make it a poor neighborhood and a wealthy neighborhood.” Stirewalt told the room full of business leaders, lawmakers and politicians. “I think a north / south split of the state is a bad idea. And I’m afraid you’ll end up with the
north / south district.
Stirewalt’s response was to create two congressional districts that divide the state’s two high-growth areas into the new districts. This would involve keeping Morgantown / Monongalia County in the 1st Congressional District and combining the Eastern Panhandle and southern West Virginia into the new 2nd Congressional District.
“I would have a district that was Wheeling, Parkersburg, Ripley, Charleston, Morgantown; and I would have a district which was the Eastern Panhandle, Beckley and Huntington. These are two good neighborhoods ”, said Stirewalt. “If you have a rapidly growing district with higher education and income levels, and you have one that shrinks with lower education and income levels, the disparity will widen over time. “
It has already been done. When West Virginia had four Congressional Districts prior to 1993, the former 2nd Congressional District stretched along the state’s eastern border from Eastern Panhandle to Fayette, Summers, Monroe and Greenbrier counties in the south. from West Virginia.
However, reuniting the Eastern Panhandle and southern West Virginia could result in a Republican primary between four-term Congressman Mooney and two-term Congressman Miller. Another scenario could pit Mooney against McKinley, who is now in his sixth term since being elected in 2010.
The three members of the West Virginia congressional delegation released a statement in April announcing that they all intended to run for office at that time, though all may change their minds based on the cards. finals.
“Right now, we are all planning to represent ourselves in Congress”, McKinley, Mooney and Miller wrote. “Once the West Virginia State Legislature meets in the fall and redraws the cards of Congress, we will consider the matter again at that time.”
THE COLOR IN THE LINES
The joint committee on redistribution has just completed 12 regional public hearings and three virtual public hearings to receive comments from citizens on their thoughts on redistribution.
“We received submissions from the public to the redistribution committee,” Trump said. “A number of people have already drawn what they think are reasonable and healthy configurations of congressional districts. I hope the committee will give it some serious thought, and I have no doubts that in the end we will do what makes the most sense for West Virginia.
Summarizing his remarks on the redistribution last month, Stirewalt said the discussion regarding the congressional redistribution in West Virginia “Will shape the next 20 years of how West Virginia sees itself and how they see themselves.” “
“No matter how the neighborhoods are drawn, they must be drawn with an attitude that says we want balanced neighborhoods that are at the same time strong, which grow and which are at the same time dynamic for the future” said Stirewalt.