Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Local News

February 4, 2013

Senator Puckett from Virginia General Assembly: Redistricting ‘an ugly mess’

LEBANON, Va. — State Senator Phillip P. Puckett, D-Russell, was glad to be home over the weekend, and equally glad that the week ahead may bring some closure to the ongoing controversy over redistricting that emerged unexpectedly on Jan. 21, the public inauguration day for President Barack Obama.

At issue is House Bill 259, a bill that made some minor boundary adjustments in the House of Delegates districts the year after redistricting. Delegate Mark L. Cole’s bill was intended to “eliminate split voting precincts and otherwise facility administration of legislative elections by local officials.”

Cole, R-Fauquier, earned a 100-0 vote in the House on Valentine’s Day, Feb. 14, 2012, but it didn’t get much love from the Senate where it was referred to the Senate Committee on Privileges and Elections — twice — and languished there until Nov. 26, 2012, the Monday after Thanksgiving, when the committee moved it on to the Senate by an 8 for, 1 against and 1 abstained vote. At that point, it was ready for the start of the current session.

The Senate did not take action on the bill for seven days, but on Jan. 21, with Senator Henry L. Marsh III, D-Richmond, in Washington, D.C., at Obama’s inauguration, the Senate read the bill for the third time — preparing it for passage. After several modifications, Senator John Watkins, R-Powhatan, reintroduced the bill with an amendment in the form of a substitute, which changed the minor boundary adjustments in the house to a sweeping redistricting of the Senate districts.

“It will wipe out at least four, but maybe as many as six or seven Democratic senators and I’m one of them,” Puckett said during a telephone interview Saturday from his office in Lebanon. “It’s obvious to us that it was not something that was drawn up over night.”

The division in the Virginia Senate was split 20-20 following the 2010 election, but with Marsh at the inauguration, Senate Republicans held a one-day majority. In the case of a tie, Virginia’s Lt. Gov. Bill Bowling could have voted, but that was not necessary on Jan. 21.

The House has yet to take action on the Senate’s version of HB 259. Most recently, the house delayed taking action on the bill on Thursday, Jan. 31, and at that time, re-set it for discussion on Wednesday, Feb. 6.

“I am currently waiting to determine if the speaker of the House rules the bill to be germane or not,” State Delegate James W. “Will” Morefield, R-Tazewell, said in response to an email request for comment. “Until that time, I cannot make an official position on HB 259.”

Puckett said that the bill raises multiple constitutional questions, but in terms of the 2013 session, “it’s an ugly mess,” Puckett said. “As far as the Democrats are concerned, it looks like we’ve got our heels dug in.”

Puckett said that the developments have cast a negative tone on the 2013 session.

— Contact Bill Archer at barcher@bdtonline.com

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