Border Lines: West Virginia House committee approves delegate redistricting map
CHARLESTON — After just over an hour of discussion and debate, a committee of the West Virginia House of Delegates approved a map creating 100 single-member districts while shooting down attempts by House Democrats to tweak the lines.
After the House gaveled in for its floor session Monday morning on the first day of a special session, the House Redistricting Committee passed out an updated version of a delegate district map released at the end of September.
Committee staff member Jeff Billings explained the changes in the new map compared to the September map. Billings said many of the changes to boundaries were at the request of county clerks in order to minimize changes to voting and magisterial districts and to save money on ballot preparation costs.
Billings said the committee also received additional feedback regarding keeping certain communities of interest together. House Minority Whip Shawn Fluharty, D-Ohio, asked how committee staff came to some of their conclusions and whether input was sought from county and city officials.
Fluharty raised concerns about the percentage of Democratic House members facing fellow Democratic House members. According to Fluharty, 36 percent of current Democratic lawmakers would likely have to run against a fellow Democrat in the 2022 primary elections.
“Would it surprise you that roughly 36 percent of the Democratic caucus will now be facing each other versus roughly 5 percent of the Republican caucus would be facing each other,” Fluharty asked Billings.
“You could also say your numbers are skewed because you have a larger number of Republican members and a smaller number of Democrat members,” Billings said.
“So, it’s just mere coincidence,” Fluharty responded.
“It would have to be, sir,” Billings said.
During questioning, it was revealed that a change in the boundaries between the previous delegate district map and the new delegate district map was made in order to keep a portion of Pocahontas County where the white supremacist group National Alliance is headquartered. The group, founded in 1970, calls Mill Point home according to the Southern Poverty Law Center and maybe has 100 members nationally.
The area would have been incorporated into the district represented by Del. Caleb Hanna, R-Webster, one of the House’s two black delegates. Del. Brandon Steele, R-Raleigh, said he recommended the change after conversations with Hanna and had no contact with the National Alliance.
“I did not want to put (Hanna) in a situation where his life might be at risk,” Steele said after the committee meeting. “To not put him in a situation where he is possibly at risk or possibly igniting some kind of issue was the primary concern to me. I didn’t talk to anyone outside of this chamber about it.”
The minority members of the House Redistricting Committee attempted to offer two amendments to the map, with both amendments being shot down largely along party lines. The first would have moved a proposed district for Mingo County further into Wyoming and McDowell counties.
The other map amendment would have created a district of river towns from Moundsville to New Martinsville including the northern half of Wetzel County. The new district would have made the remainder of Marshall County its own district. It would also put Del. Charlie Reynolds, R-Marshall, and Del. Dave Pethel, D-Wetzel, in the same district. The proposed House map adopted by the committee Monday puts Pethel and Del. Lisa Zukoff, D-Marshall, in the same district.
“All this does is puts similar-sized towns and cities together … who have like-sized issues,” said House Minority Leader Doug Skaff, D-Kanawha.
After meeting Monday evening, the House suspended its rules to put the delegate district plan on first reading, setting up a final vote on Wednesday.
While the House Redistricting Committee did not take up any proposed congressional map, the Senate Redistricting Committee adopted a congressional map Monday that splits the state into a northern and southern district. The Joint Committee on Redistricting — comprised of members of the house and state Senate — will have a public hearing Wednesday at 8 a.m. to hear feedback on congressional maps. Those who wish to participate must be signed by an hour in advance of Wednesday’s meeting.
Steven Allen Adams can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org