PARKERSBURG - Citizens and public officials gathered at the Parkersburg City Building Wednesday for a discussion on redistricting efforts, which may cause a shift in state Senate seats from the south to the north.
About 75 people, including several public officials, attended the forum, hosted by the West Virginia State Senate Redistricting Committee. Eight of the 17 state senators on the task force attended the discussion.
The meeting was the 10th of 12 public forums held around the state to facilitate open discussion on the ongoing process of redrawing the boundaries of the state Legislature.
Photo by Natalee Seely
Sen. John Unger, D-Berkeley, chairman of the West Virginia State Senate Redistricting Committee, welcomes community members to a public forum Wednesday at the Parkersburg City Building.
Sen. John Unger, D-Berkeley, chairman of the task force, said new district maps have not been drawn or discussed among the 17-member task force.
"We want to hear what you would like to see in the area of redistricting," Unger said. "Every 10 years the census occurs. After we receive those numbers, we are constitutionally obligated to go through a redistricting process in order to uphold the very sacred principles of the constitution one person one vote, and equal representation."
The redistricting is required after census results indicated a population shift toward the Eastern Panhandle. The population loss is greatest in the southern counties, including Kanawha County.
Unger said the governor will call a special session in early August, when legislators will convene to vote on the new district lines.
Aaron Allred, legislative auditor, said federal guidelines ask for equal representation in the state's three congressional districts, which amounts to 617,665 citizens per district. In regard to the 17 state Senate districts, the ideal senatorial district would contain 109,000 people.
"We've had a serious population shift in West Virginia," Allred said. "There's no way around it; you are going to see a shift in Senate seats from southern West Virginia to northern West Virginia. The politicians are going to have to deal with the fact that there are going to be losers and there are going to be winners in redistricting."
Four members of the public spoke to the panel, including Harold Brown, chairman of the Wood County Democratic Executive Committee.
"I tend to believe that if something is working reasonably well, don't mess with it," Brown said. "There are those who want to have a little conflict over single and multiple delegate districts, but I think if we really want to change some things, let's look at congressional districts."
Brown suggested dividing the state into eastern, western and southern congressional districts.
"What are the differences in the interests of the people over on the Potomac River versus the people on the Ohio River? We have a district that runs all across the state," he said.
A South Charleston resident who has attended all the redistricting forums addressed legislators Wednesday.
Thornton Cooper, former attorney for the Public Service Commission of West Virginia, said several large counties, excluding Wood County, should be split to make state Senate districts equal. He suggested keeping together Wayne County, which is currently split between districts.
He proposed keeping Wood, Wirt, Pleasants and Ritchie counties in one senatorial district.
"The idea is you should try to approach perfection. Don't go for a C minus, go for an A," said Cooper. "The state constitution says the senatorial districts are supposed to be as close as possible numerically, but not crossing county lines."
Discussion on House redistricting was limited, as the House of Delegates has its own 30-member committee to discuss the redrawing of the state's 58 House districts. A few speakers Wednesday said they would like to see the state split into 100 single-member districts.
West Virginia is one of the few states in the country that has multi-representative districts.