Deeds weighs in on surprise Virginia Senate redistricting

State Senator Creigh Deeds. File photo. State Senator Creigh Deeds. File photo.

The surprise redistricting bill Republicans pushed through the Virginia Senate yesterday has raised a lot of questions: Did Governor McDonnell’s office know his fellow party members were plotting a mid-decade overhaul that, if it sticks, would likely hand Republicans a State Senate majority? Could the redistricting stand up in court, considering Virginia’s constitutional restrictions? And where did Senate Republicans get the cajones to wait for the absence of a longtime legislator and civil rights attorney, who was attending President Barack Obama’s second inauguration on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, to ram through a bill that some say will “ghettoize” black voters in Richmond—and then adjourn by recognizing Stonewall Jackson’s birthday?

But the question we were asking was: What’s Creigh Deeds got to say? The proposed changes would cut the Senator from the 25th District—which includes Charlottesville and part of Albemarle—out of the map entirely. It’s far from the only change (Ben Tribbett breaks it down race-by-race on his Not Larry Sabato blog, and you can see the proposed map on the Virginia redistricting website here), but it’s no small deal for Deeds.

When we called him this morning, he still sounded taken aback by what had happened yesterday.

“We had finalized the business of the day, and they brought this up with no warning,” Deeds said. “Obviously, they put a lot of thought into it, because they produced documents showing how the new district would look.”

Deeds, a member of the Senate since 2001, said he didn’t think McDonnell knew about the redistricting bill before it hit the floor.

“Yesterday, a deputy secretary of transportation was in my office talking about transportation projects in the district I represent,” he said—the first time that’s happened in years. “Why would they be doing that if they were going to try to cut me out of the legislature the same day?”

He also said he firmly believes the measure is unconstitutional.

“The Constitution of Virginia was amended in 2004 to say that redistricting occurred in 2011 and every 10 years thereafter,” he said. “If that means what it says, you can’t wholesale redistrict in the middle of the 10-year period.” He said Democrats are prepared to fight the bill on those grounds, should it survive. “This thing has to be approved by the House, and it has to be signed by the governor. If all of that happens, then we’re going to challenge it in court, and we’ll win.”

As for him, he said, he’s not planning on going anywhere. Regardless of whether the redistricting stands, he’ll remain the Senator from the 25th until 2015, he pointed out, and he plans to run again no matter what.

“Here’s what I know,” Deeds said. “I’m going to be on the ballot somewhere in 2015. I cannot be consumed by this. We have too much serious work to do to let this 11th-hour sham of a bill distract us.”