Old Dominion Redistricting Is a MicrocosmOf the Country

The Virginia Legislature will vote Wednesday during a special spring session on new redistricting lines in the state. Like most states, Virginia's partisan battle is based on the golden political rule: The majority makes the rules.

"If you are in a political party you're going to try and displace those who are in the other party. That's just the nature of the process," said John H. Rust Jr., a Republican House delegate from Northern Virginia and a key architect in the redistricting process.

In 1999, Republicans gained control of both the Virginia House of Delegates and the Senate for the first time in more than 100 years. Redistricting — which revises voting districts — is based on the 2000 census. Politically, the goal is to find the pockets of constituents that will give the party a voting edge in each district of the state.

This year, the process amounts to payback time for Virginia Democrats. After a century of Democratic control of the state legislature, the GOP has the majority and Democrats say they are getting squeezed off the political landscape.

"I think it is unfair to the voters," said Marian Van Landingham, a Democratic delegate also from Northern Virginia. "It may be politics as usual, but it's still unfair to the voters. I think it may backfire, you know, because the citizens are going to resent this."

"The Democratic Party has dominated politics in Virginia for more than 100 years," Rust countered.  "I think this may be the beginning for the same type of era for the Republican Party. So, it is a major watershed in terms of the politics in Virginia."

Once the state plan is in place, state lawmakers will turn to redrawing the federal lines for congressional seats.

"We'll control more seats at the redistricting table this cycle than at anytime since 1920," said Rep. Tom Davis, R-Va., chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee.  The NRCC is an arm of the party that helps candidates raise money and run for congressional seats.

Across the country, both parties play the game. In 19 states, Democrats control the legislatures. Republicans have an edge in 16 states, and 15 state capitals are split.

"There are opportunities for us in some places and there are opportunities for Republicans in some places, so we'll see how it turns out," said Martin Frost, D-Texas, chairman of the House Democratic Caucus.

In Indiana, where Democrats control the legislature, a plan is going through to undercut incumbent Republican Rep. Steve Buyer. In Iowa, Democratically redrawn lines go after incumbent Republican Jim Nussle. Both men may actually have to move their homes to new districts where they are not as well known just to establish the residency requirement in the newly created House districts.

But of Virginia's 11 congressional seats, six are occupied by Republicans right now, four by Democrats, and one by an Independent who tends to vote with the GOP. After redistricting, Republicans think they can gain control of eight of the 11 seats, and across the country they are looking to pick up as many as 10 seats overall, solidifying the Republican majority there.