I’ve worked in Democratic politics for the better part of five decades, so sometimes it’s tough to be surprised by something new. But recently I was asked a fairly straightforward question that admittedly I hadn’t considered since my days fresh out of college on the campaign trail: I was asked why I considered myself a Democrat.
And even though it’s an inherently political question, my answer has always been bigger than partisan politics -- it reflects our democratic system of government. For me, the modern Democratic Party has stood for unapologetic equality and fairness for all -- whether it is women’s rights, LGBTQ rights or civil rights for minority communities.
Put simply, I believe our system of government only works when it works for everyone.
It’s why I have devoted my life to furthering these causes here in Virginia since my husband and I moved to Fairfax in 1990 -- whether it is managing a number of statewide Democratic campaigns, running for statewide office myself, to founding Emerge Virginia, an organization with the sole purpose of recruiting, training and consulting Democratic women who wish to run for public office.
This is why my latest challenge in this realm is very important. A few weeks ago, I was honored to be elected as the President of the OneVirginia2021 501(c) (4) Board of Directors.
OneVirginia2021 is a nonpartisan grassroots organization of over 100,000 vocal and dedicated supporters statewide that believes congressional and state legislative districts belong to Virginians, and not to any legislator, special interest, or political party. We advocate for a fair process, not a particular political outcome, because if you have a broad base of support for better solutions for all – that’s what should matter.
For too long, politicians have selected their voters, when it should be the other way around. Elected officials have intentionally kept citizens out of the process of drawing legislative districts, allowing proverbial smoky backroom deals to pick and choose who gets a say in electing their representatives. We can end this once and for all in 2020.
In February, the General Assembly overwhelmingly passed a bipartisan constitutional amendment proposal that could create Virginia’s first redistricting commission -- a measure that would include citizens in this important process for the first time.
Passing this proposed amendment marked a giant leap forward in significantly improving the way districts are drawn in Virginia. This constitutional amendment ensures that no matter which Party holds the majority, there will never be partisan gerrymandering again. If this moves forward, it will be the most comprehensive redistricting reform that has ever passed through any state legislature in American history.
But there are a couple of reasons why the job isn’t quite done yet.
First: In Virginia, constitutional amendments need to be passed in two consecutive legislative sessions, followed by a statewide ballot referendum. In other words, it needs to happen all over again in 2020.
Second: even though this amendment is a good start, there are still several ways to improve the redistricting process before the 2020 census, and it involves passing supplemental bills in addition to the amendment itself.
These bills should include (1) clear criteria for the commission to keep existing communities together, (2) a provision that requires the commission’s members to reflect the diversity of our Commonwealth, and (3) rules to explicitly prohibit gerrymandering in all forms while drawing district lines. We can all work together to make the necessary criteria work for all Virginians.
I was thrilled to hear Senator Tim Kaine say on the radio recently that he hopes the amendment and accompanying legislation passes the General Assembly, and I urge members of my party to follow suit.
As a lifelong Democrat, I know this issue can seem problematic. Admittedly, the political part of my brain wants to do to the GOP what they so unfairly did to us in 2011. But my conscience knows that the sanctity of our elections is much bigger than party politics.
After November’s huge victories, I could see that Virginia’s new Democratic majorities would be poised to make history in a number of ways in 2020 -- whether it’s finally passing the Equal Rights Amendment, increasing our stagnant minimum wage or making progress on reducing gun violence. The list could go on and on.
But I would argue that comprehensive redistricting reform would make history as well. It’s a matter of fundamental fairness and ensuring that every vote counts equally under Virginia law.
In many ways, that is what the modern Democratic Party has always stood for, and I would remind any lawmaker from my side of the aisle to remember that as they consider this reform package. It’s why I became a Democrat in the first place.