Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell says he was surprised that his own Republican Party in the state Senate shoved through new district maps yesterday that could give them a permanent majority. Virginia Republicans picked the day when one Democrat was away at the inauguration to spring the new maps on the evenly divided chamber and then pass them. When I asked McDonnell's office just now whether he would sign or veto the bill, which still needs approval from the House, they sent over a recording (mp3) of the governor fielding that question today with local reporters. The verbate:
REPORTER: Is it time yet to tell these guys, "If it comes to me, I'm going to veto it"?
MCDONNELL: Well, listen, my focus this year is on education, transportation, and budget and government reform. That's what I had asked this session to be about. Obviously, the tactics that were used yesterday was a surprise, and I don’t think that's the way that business should be done. But I haven't looked at the bill. I’m not happy about the things that have happened. Look, some people said they were against my transportation bill long before yesterday, so this has got a long way to go. I don't know whether I'm going to get a bill or not. But I'm going to wait and see at this point what happens. I have not looked at the bill. At this point, though, I want people to focus on the things that are important. What I said the session should be about is education, transportation -- not redistricting and other things. That's my focus.
The short answer, so far, is no answer yet. McDonnell could try to keep the House from passing the bill and sending it to him. A year ago, he found himself in much the same position, trying to get the legislature off the ledge -- and off the front pages -- with that forced ultrasound bill. He ended up signing that one.
Adding: Virginia Democrats say the new maps have the effect of concentrating African-American voters into districts that are already majority-minority. The party calculates that 24 districts would lose black voters, while only 15 or 16 would gain them. The number of districts where African-Americans make up 20 percent or more of the electorate would fall from 14 to 10. And of the five majority-minority districts that already exist, four would absorb new African-American voters that were moved from other districts. See ProPublica's "packing and cracking" take on gerrymandering for further explanation.
Related link: Commemorative Bob McDonnell Vaginal Ultrasound Probes!