A Fairfax County senator offered a redrawing of his own district fearing that a consultant-drawn map would push him out of his own district.
When voters approved the establishment of the Virginia Redistricting Commission last year many saw this as a win in keeping incumbent politicians from redrawing their own districts in order to hold onto office. Senator George Barker (D-Fairfax) decided to offer an alternative redrawing for his district for fear of being pushed out and into contention with another, more established democratic senator.
Barker represents the Commonwealth’s State Senate District 39 which covers parts of Springfield, West Springfield, and Rose Hill in Fairfax County. The 39th district also covers areas of Prince William County such as Lake Ridge and Occoquan.
The new map would have pushed Barker closer into State Senate District 34 for which Senator Chap Petersen (D-Fairfax) has been its incumbent for four terms. District 34 covers the city of Fairfax ending just outside of Vienna and stretches out past Centerville and Chantilly.
This alternative plan came as a surprise to the commission whose existence was predicated on Virginia voters wanting to prevent this very issue from occurring. Barker explained that the draft map drawn up by the commission’s Republican consultant would put him in a very lopsided primary contest with Petersen because most of the redrawn District 39 would fall in much of Petersen’s district.
“In a primary situation, the people who have been voting for him… they know him, they don’t know me,” Barker told the Virginia Mercury. “And basically, in a situation where he has 39 precincts and I have two, there’s no contest.”
After Barker made his presentation Democratic citizen commissioner Sean Kumar asked why the commission would even allow this in the first place since it runs contrary to its mission.
Fairfax Times contacted Petersen for comment on the situation and he avowed his support for the commission and expressed his thankfulness that people are willing to work on this issue and that because of the large workload was glad that he wasn’t a part of the process.
“I don’t have a strong opinion when it comes to redrawing the districts, I represented the 34th for four terms,” said Petersen. “I’m somewhat agnostic on what happens, I don’t have any criticisms and am thankful for the people that are doing this.”
Petersen also said he had no awareness of the situation until he had read about it himself. According to Petersen the latest map of a redrawn 34th district goes south towards Fairfax Station and Clifton instead of west towards Centerville as it’s currently drawn.
Mackenzie Babich-enko, the commission’s Republican co-chair, said he would consider Barker’s map as a comment and would have no impact on the commission unless they decided to do something with it.
When discussing the matter with the Virginia Mercury after the meeting, Barker disputed that his comment was all about his own self-interest and would have done it for any senator regardless of the party had they been impacted. Barker did state that in this case, he happened to be the one who would feel the impact of such a decision.
Although the commission has access to the data which shows where all 140 members of the General Assembly live, they have yet to incorporate that information into their process. The maps for districts in Northern Virginia are being drawn from scratch and without that information, the result is that some districts are drawing multiple incumbents into the same district while other districts are left without incumbents which isn’t sitting well with Northern Virginia Democrats.
One member of the commission, Senator Marcus Simon (D-Fairfax), was left with no incumbents as a result of the redistricting. Simon caused an uproar when suggested that partisanship may be involved in deciding who gets paired with who especially in areas where Republicans can’t in his words “control the political outcome.”
“I’ll just be very frank about it,” Simon said during the meeting. “If I were a Republican drawing Northern Virginia, my goal would be to duplicate as many incumbents as possible.”
Republican Citizen Commissioner Richard Harrell objected to Simon’s comments calling them out of order. Simon shot back at Harrell questioning his presence at the meeting but apologized later acknowledging Harrell’s right to be in the meeting. Simon stated his reason for the outburst was that Harrell addressed him directly rather than addressing the commission’s chairs per General Assembly decorum.
Harrell declined to comment to Fairfax Times about the exchange or on the business of the commission itself.