By BILL ARCHER
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
Nine state senators representing a portion of the West Virginia State Senate Redistricting Task Force came to Mercer County Thursday evening to hear from the people as they work to draw the shape of things to come for the state’s 17 senatorial districts.
Senator John R. Unger II, Senate Majority Leader, said that when the senate drew new districts following the 2000 Census, the meetings were held in private and “by the time the public found out, it was over ... a done deal.” Unger said the task force vowed to make the process totally transparent this time. The Mercer County session was the 12th and final meeting in the fact-finding effort. “We saved the best for last,” he said.
Other senators participating included Mark Wills, Ronald Miller, Larry J. Edgell, Donna J. Boley, John Pat Fanning, Richard Browning, William R. Laird IV, and Bob Williams. Mercer County Delegates John Frazier, Marty Gearheart and Joe Ellington also participated.
Unger went through a list of speakers signed up to address the committee — giving each individual speaker as much time as they wanted. South Charleston lawyer Thornton Cooper made a lengthy presentation with his thoughts for redistricting including a Senate District 10 that would combine the entirety of Mercer County with the portion of Raleigh County where Beckley is located, but most speakers made concise presentations.
Mike Vinciguerra of the Mercer County received a round of applause when he asked the task force to consider a unified Mercer County combined with McDowell and Mingo counties. Princeton Mayor Pat Wilson as well as Bluefield City Manager Andy Merriman called for a unified Mercer County, as did former State Senator Tony Whitlow who called the districts that Mercer is now is part of represents “gerrymandering at it’s worst,” and said: “I hope you people see fit to put our county back (together).”
Blaine Braithwaite of Bluefield said the present division of Mercer County is confusing to elderly people and Mike Lushbaugh of McDowell County said McDowell is now part of one Senate district, but said he was in favor of single delegate districts.
Former State Senator John H. Shott of Bluefield asked his colleagues to consider his 19-county plan to redistrict all of the southern West Virginia counties. Marc Meachum, president of the Greater Bluefield Chamber of Commerce spoke out in favor of a unified Mercer Senate district, but single delegate districts for the house of delegates.
Former Delegate Gene Bailey also spoke out in favor of single delegate districts, but Robert E. “Bob” Holroyd spoke out against single delegate districts. Mike Harvey said that he would like to see Mercer County have 4 delegates, and Russell Gaither, chair of the Southern West Virginia Tea Party said he wanted a unified Mercer County and single delegate districts. Dale Geiger of Athens also spoke in favor of single districts in the House of Delegates.
At the start of the session, Unger said that the public meetings have all been recorded and are made available — as well as the newspaper coverage of the sessions — on line at (www.legis.state.wv.us/redistricting.cfm). The committee also distributed maps of present districts as well as census information for each district in the state.
–—Contact Bill Archer at email@example.com