RICHMOND, Va. (WTVR) - “A surprise attack like Pearl Harbor.” That is how Virginia Senator Henry Marsh (D - Richmond) described a recent move by Virginia Republicans to redraw voting districts. The evenly divided Virginia Senate passed those changes while Marsh was attending the inauguration of President Barack Obama in Washington, D.C. His absence left Democrats one vote short.
The Senate bill is now on the House floor.
The Virginia Legislative Black Caucus met Tuesday morning outside the State Capitol to discuss its concerns about the redistricting and other bills they said could give more voting power to Republicans. They called this morning's gathering a "no justice, no peace" rally.
Caucus members said state Republicans are overreaching and trampling on the rights of Virginia citizens. Senator Marsh said the new lines are unconstitutional, but Senator John Watkins (R - Midlothian) and other Republicans behind the bill said they are trying to create another "minority-majority" district to satisfy the 1965 Voting Rights Act. They said the bill has nothing to do with diluting the voting strength of the state's African-Americans.
Democrats, like Senator Mamie E. Locke (D - Hampton), argue the GOP is actually creating more Republican-dominant districts.
“It’s going to be an uphill battle because of sheer numbers,” Sen. Locke said. “One of the reasons they tried to do that redistricting plan is because the day that they did, they knew one of our members wouldn’t be there. And the Lt. Governor (Bill Bolling) had pretty much said he didn’t support it.”
Another Republican who said he was disappointed in the move is Governor Bob McDonnell. He's trying to pass a long-term transportation plan before his term runs out and he says he doesn't think what the GOP is doing is a "good way to do business."
Even though the governor says he's disappointed, he also stopped short of saying he'd veto the bill if it's passed.