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W.Va. to begin redraw of political boundary lines

January 05, 2001

W.Va. to begin redraw of political boundary lines



By BOB PARTLOW / Staff Writer


MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - The once-every-decade battle over political boundary lines is about to begin, with the Eastern Panhandle in the middle of discussions about possible new congressional districts, officials said.

The three easternmost counties of the state comprise one end of a district that stretches the length of the state, through Charleston to the Ohio River on the west.

"I believe it is the longest congressional district east of the Mississippi, and you can't get from the Panhandle to the other end without traveling in another state," said state Sen. John Unger, D-Berkeley.

He and fellow lawmakers will decide how to redraw the political boundary lines. The U.S. Census Bureau will provide county population figures this spring, after which serious debate will begin. The West Virginia Legislature will probably meet in special session this summer or fall.

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After years of Democratic reign in the district, Republican Shelley Moore Capito defeated Democrat Jim Humphreys. Both were seeking to replace Democrat Bob Wise, who was elected governor.

Del. John Overington, R-Berkeley, said the three congressional districts should remain largely as they are.

The 1st District makes up northern West Virginia, the 2nd District slices through the middle of the state and the 3rd District takes up the southern portion. Each has about 600,000 people.

The state went through a massive redrawing of the lines 10 years ago when the state lose one congressional seat. The redrawing pitted incumbent Democrats Harley Staggers and Wise against each other.

"The simplest thing this year would be to keep the same districts," Overington said.

Berkeley County and the Eastern Panhandle have experienced the highest growth rates in the state over the past decade. That growth rate could be balanced off easily with other counties that have lost population, he said.

Some Democrats have argued that the districts ought to be dramatically reconfigured. Unger, who said he has no preference, said one scenario most mentioned is to put the Eastern Panhandle in the same district as the Northern Panhandle and include the several counties between the two. That would make the district look much as it did before the last redistricting.

He said the Eastern Panhandle has more in common with the Northern Panhandle than it does with Charleston, such as being sandwiched between two states.

"There's already a disconnect between the Eastern Panhandle and Charleston anyway, and people would say, 'Why stay in the same district with Charleston?' " Unger said. "The question of where the real community of interest lies will be the one that will be really debated."

Overington argues that both the Eastern Panhandle and Charleston have chemical industries such as DuPont. That gives them similar interests.

Politics will play a big role in the outcome, officials said. Any significant redistricting of the 2nd District could pit Moore against an incumbent Democrat such as U.S. Rep. Alan Mollohan, D-W.Va., in the 1st District.

Keeping the 2nd District as is would give Moore the base from which she has already proven she can win.

Unger said he will hold town meetings this year before deciding what he wants to do.

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