Archive for June, 2014

Can Virginians Pass a Constitutional Amendment Ending Partisan Gerrymandering?

Tuesday, June 17th, 2014

The work of Congress has largely ground to a halt. It seems to be unable to address the problems and opportunities we face in a meaningful way. That same gridlock seems to be invading our state legislature more and more. Leigh Middleditch and Terry Cooper are part of a group that’s trying to do something about that. OneVirginia2021: Virginians for Fair Redistricting, is a nonpartisan group that believes that a major cause of our legislative gridlock is partisan gerrymandering, the drawing of legislative districts’ lines for the purpose of partisan advantage.

OneVirginia2021 is seeking to amend Virginia’s Constitution to take that power away from the legislators and delegate it to an independent, nonpartisan commission of Virginia non-politicians who will have to draw the district maps in strict compliance with common sense, nonpartisan standards — like respect for city, county and voting precinct boundaries, compactness and contiguity.

Background and details of this effort were presented by Terry Cooper and Leigh Middleditch, and moderated by SSV President Bob McGrath.  Listen to the podcast here.

Leigh Middleditch (Left) and Terry Cooper speaking at the Senior Center in Charlottesville.

Leigh Middleditch (Left) and Terry Cooper speaking at the Senior Center.

Terry CooperTerry Cooper does political research, principally opposition research for Republican candidates. He is a graduate of Episcopal High School, Princeton University and the University of Virginia School of Law, where he was research editor of the Virginia Law Review, a member of the National Moot Court Team and elected to the Order of the Coif, the law-school equivalent of Phi Beta Kappa. He practiced law with the Wall Street firm Sullivan & Cromwell and held executive positions with three Fortune 500 companies before founding his firm, Terry Cooper Political Research, in 1982. Terry has taught opposition research at the Republican National Committee’s Campaign Management Colleges, at American University’s Campaign Management Institute, at George Washington University’s Graduate School of Political Management, at the University of Florida and at training programs sponsored by the state Republican parties of Virginia, Delaware, Illinois, Michigan, Tennessee, Wisconsin and Washington State.

Leigh MiddleditchLeigh Middleditch is a vice president with McGuireWoods Consulting where his practice is now concentrated in the nongovernmental and exempt organizations fields. Leigh has previously served on the Board of Visitors and as the legal adviser to UVa and was a founder of the Sorensen Institute for Political Leadership. He also held the position of university lecturer in the Law and Darden Graduate Business Schools and is co-author of Virginia Civil Procedure. Leigh has been chair of the University’s Health Services Foundation; Virginia Health Care Foundation; Charlottesville-Albemarle Chamber of Commerce; Virginia Chamber of Commerce; Senior Lawyers Division of the American Bar Association, and a member of the ABA Board of Governors. He has also served as a director of the United States Chamber of Commerce; trustee of the Thomas Jefferson Foundation (Monticello); and University of Virginia Law Association. He currently is on the Board of the Montpelier Foundation; the U.Va. White Burkett Miller Council and Foundation for the Study of the Presidency; and is a Trustee of the Claude Moore Charitable Foundation. Leigh served on active duty with the United States Navy from 1951-1954 and retired as a Captain USNR.

Program Summary

OneVirginia2021 is seeking to amend Virginia’s Constitution to take that power away from the legislators and delegate it to an independent, nonpartisan commission of Virginia nonpoliticians who will have to draw the district maps in strict compliance with common sense, nonpartisan standards — like respect for city, county and voting precinct boundaries, compactness and contiguity. 

Mr. Middleditch began by stating that every 10 years after the decennial census is conducted, the party in power in the state gets to draw the lines of the districts both for the state elections and for Congress. The natural tendency is for those in power to draw the lines to protect incumbents. From time-to-time in Virginia there have been efforts in the legislature to change the power structure and to go to an independent commission to draw the lines. For example, Creigh Deeds had this as a plank in his platform and has introduced bills for a number of years. It is evident now that a constitutional amendment will be needed, and that requires an identical bill passed in two general assemblies with an election in between the two. It will be an uphill battle. OneVirginia2021 will start with a grassroots effort and plans to have 1,000 people signed up as supporters within a year and will raise $500,000 (42 percent of that goal has already been raised) and eventually it will cost $3 million to run an effective campaign.

Mr. Cooper said that he would focus on the why and how of redistricting reform. A common complaint he hears is that our politics, especially at the national level, are too polarized–that elected officials are less concerned with solving our problems and seizing our opportunities than they are about scoring political points at the expense of the other party. He went on to describe the definition and constitutionality of gerrymandering and how it is handled today, and also the measures that four states have enacted to forbid gerrymandering and that have been seminal in their thinking as to the type of constitutional amendment we want. Mr. Cooper’s remarks were packed with data and information. It is a good cause to support.