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Redistricting Bill Causes Tension Along Party Lines - NBC29 WVIR Charlottesville, VA News, Sports and Weather

Redistricting Bill Causes Tension Along Party Lines

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A redistricting battle in Richmond this week is creating tension along party lines, and even some race-based bitterness. The redistricting measure, passed by the Senate in a 20-19 party line vote Monday, could also mean entirely new district lines for parts of central Virginia.

Republicans say the redistricting measure, which caught many Senate Democrats off guard Monday, will establish a new district along the North Carolina border with a majority of minority voters. They also say the new district lines are more geographically compact.

Richmond Democrat Sen. Donald McEachin sees things differently. He accused Republicans of placing African American voters into specific districts in an effort to increase GOP influence in other areas.

"That is plantation politics," said McEachin on the Senate floor Tuesday. "What they're going to do now is to essentially pack African Americans into six districts, so as to limit their ability to influence other districts," he said.

The redistricting measure also calls for the creation of a new Senate district, which includes Charlottesville, Staunton, Waynesboro, and surrounding counties.

"The district I'm honored to represent was split four ways," 25th District Senator Creigh Deeds said. Deeds is frustrated, but doesn't believe the bill will pass the test of constitutionality. According to the Virginia Constitution, reapportionment is only conducted on years ending in the number one.

"Redistricting can only occur in 2011, and every 10 years thereafter," Deeds said. "That clause has been interpreted by courts."

Republican Senate Majority Thomas Norment disagrees. "If I thought that piece of legislation was unconstitutional, it would not have been presented on the floor of the Senate," Norment said.

Regardless of the bill's fate, Democrats say this could mean further polarization, and little hope for agreement on major issues like education and transportation. "They've poisoned the well," Deeds said. "They've damaged our ability to work with one another, to trust one another."

The bill now goes to the House of Delegates for a vote. Democrats say they will pursue litigation if necessary to stop new districts from forming. New district lines would take effect in the 2015 election cycle.

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