Northam promises veto of GOP redistricting plan

Image: PBS
Image: PBS
Published: Oct. 2, 2018 at 7:33 PM EDT
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Virginia Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam said Tuesday that he wants federal judges to redraw the state's legislative map and will veto a GOP-drawn map advancing the state House.

Northam said in a statement that the General Assembly's redrawing effort is too partisan and a federal court is best situated to draw a new legislative map. A federal court ruled this summer that lawmakers illegally packed black voters into 11 districts and ordered lawmakers to draw a new map by Oct. 30.

"Given this conviction, I must unequivocally state that I will veto (the Republican-drawn map) should it reach my desk," Northam said.

A House committee voted along party lines last week to advance a GOP-drawn map that supporters say was "race blind" and "politically neutral," meaning that it does not dramatically alter the partisan make up of competitive districts. The full House was set to vote on the bill later this month, though the governor's promised veto may derail those plans.

Some Democrats and liberal activists have said the GOP map doesn't solve the problem it's intended to remedy: that the current map packs black voters in order to help Republicans in neighboring districts.

A new map drawn by federal judges could be beneficial for Democrats. When the General Assembly was unable to draw a new Congressional map a few years ago, a federal court-drawn map led to Democrats picking up a U.S. House seat.

Republicans mocked Northam's promised veto, saying the Democrats' strategy has always been to stymie the legislative process for political gain.

"At least the governor is finally being honest," said House Speaker Kirk Cox. "After weeks of feigning interest, the governor has admitted at last that he wants federal judges appointed by President Obama to draw a redistricting map to deliver a Democratic majority in the House of Delegates."

Sen. Lionell Spruill, a black Democratic lawmaker who supports the GOP-drawn map, said the governor is wrong to promise a veto before the bill gets to his desk.

Spruill said he doesn't know what Northam's motives are, but he said some Democrats are too concerned about gaining seats and not concerned enough about ensuring that African Americans are elected to the General Assembly.

He said he would vote to override Northam's veto if given a chance.

"I'm not going to sell my people down the line so we can pick up more seats," Spruill said. "I was black first, then a Democrat."