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Republicans in West Virginia Senate divided over redistricting maps

State Sen. Robert Karnes, R-Randolph, answers questions from press Thursday regarding an amendment to a plan to redistrict the state Senate. (Photo courtesy of WV Legislative Photography)

CHARLESTON — Despite landing on a proposed senatorial redistricting map Monday, the West Virginia Senate has continually put off voting on its plan, with members divided over an amendment that would break up multiple counties and cities.

Senate Bill 3034, the bill that will re-draw the map for 17 senatorial districts, was laid over one day Thursday, putting it on third reading with right to amend today. This was the second time the bill was laid over.

The nine-member Senate Redistricting Committee recommended a map drafted by committee Chairman Charles Trump, R-Mineral, during its Monday meeting. That map kept many of the lines the same, tweaking them based on population growth and population shifts between the 2010 and 2020 Census reports.

Called Trump No. 8, the map gives Monongalia County its first two-member district solely located within its county boundaries. It also only breaks up seven counties, focusing more on keeping districts compact and equal in population.

During that meeting, Senate Minority Leader Mike Woelfel, D-Cabell, warned about another senatorial map being shopped around to members that broke up Cabell County into two districts. Rumors of this map spread throughout the week, but the map itself did not appear on the Senate Redistricting Committee’s webpage until Wednesday night.

The Karnes/Tarr senatorial redistricting amendment could be consider later today. (Map courtesy of the Senate Redistricting Committee)

The map has since been dubbed the Karnes/Tarr map, named for state senators Robert Karnes, R-Randolph, and Eric Tarr, R-Putnam. Instead of breaking up seven counties, the Karnes/Tarr map breaks up as many as 14 counties, including Cabell. It splits up nearly the same number of municipalities.

It also puts counties together that traditionally have never been together, combining part of Cabell County with Lincoln County, combining Logan and Boone counties with the southern half of Kanawha County, and connecting Clay County to Mercer County through Nicholas, Greenbrier, Monroe, and Summers counties.

When asked about the map Thursday, Karnes neither confirmed nor denied ownership of the map, calling it a product of the Senate Republican Caucus.

“We’ve certainly worked it through our caucus numerous times,” Karnes said. “It’s one of the reasons why I think we’re all feeling like maybe we’re a day late on it. As far as I’m concerned, it’s a caucus map and … I have not contributed to it any more than anybody else I don’t think.”

Senate Redistricting Committee Co-Chairman Dave Sypolt, R-Preston, attributed the delays in passing the bill to making sure that both Republicans and Democratic senators have time to review both maps and come to a decision.

“Part of the delay is by design to provide the minority — and for that matter, the majority caucus — to review the maps,” Sypolt said. “Chairman Trump has stated publicly on more than one occasion that here were nine members of the redistricting committee, which is only a small fraction of the entire body … I think it was very important for Chairman Trump, especially for me as well, to make sure that the whole body has a chance to weigh in because you’re not going to find a utopian map. It just does not exist.”

Senate Minority Leader Stephen Baldwin, D-Greenbrier, said the process was the complete reverse of transparency, calling the process “broken.” Baldwin said the new map should have been presented a week ago to give the public and lawmakers more time to either consider it or submit alternatives to the Karnes/Tarr map.

“We’ve had a process for the last couple months, and now all of a sudden there’s this potential map before us that didn’t get through the process,” Baldwin said. “It wasn’t submitted to the committee. It wasn’t heard by the committee. It hasn’t been up for public comment. It was pitched apparently in caucus and then put before everyone.”

Karnes defended the map, which was developed to be different than the map drawn 10 years ago by the previous Democratic Senate majority. Karnes said the map amendment pays more attention to where people go versus where people live.

“This is the first time Republicans have redistricted in 100 years almost,” Karnes said. “If you think about which directions did the people look as sort of the center of their community, it’s not to the center of the county. It’s actually into cities and other countries. I think we’re just working through that process. It’s kind of having not done it for a hundred years, regaining some of that understanding of, yes, it breaks more counties, but it actually makes more sense. And maybe it’s more compact.”

Steven Allen Adams can be reached at sadams@newsandsentinel.com

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