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Unger says census data will show districts need to be redrawn

With growth expected to continue, he said fair representation is even more critical to region

December 21, 2010|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD | matthewu@herald-mail.com
  • W.Va. Sen. John Unger
W.Va. Sen. John Unger

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. — State Sen. John Unger thinks U.S. Census 2010 data will show the Eastern Panhandle accounted for "the lion's share" of West Virginia's gain of 44,650 in population in the last decade.

Census figures released Tuesday indicate the state's population since 2000 increased by 2.5 percent to 1,852,994, but the gain will not net an additional congressional district.

County-by-county population data is not expected to be released until early next year, but Unger, D-Berkeley/Jefferson, said he believes the numbers will show the state's three congressional districts as currently devised make even less sense than they did 10 years ago and need to be redrawn.

The Eastern Panhandle is part of the state's 2nd Congressional District, which Unger described as "a little snake" that coils the Eastern Panhandle with Charleston, W.Va., stretching between the Potomac River and the Ohio River.

"We can't continue to be second fiddle for the next 10 years," Unger said. "We don't have much in common with Charleston. We need to take a look at that."

Since being lumped with the state's largest population center in 1991, Unger said the region has been underrepresented on boards and commissions, and also has been forced to battle for highway funding divided equally by congressional district.

"I just want what's fair to the Eastern Panhandle in regards to all representation," Unger said.

With growth expected to continue as developments such as Macy's come to the region, Unger said fair representation is even more critical.

In the state legislature, Unger expects a second Berkeley County resident will be elected to serve in the state Senate after the lines are redrawn for the 15th and 16th districts.

 The 16th district, which Unger and Sen. Herb Snyder, D-Jefferson/Berkeley, represent, was the largest populated of the state's 17 senatorial districts 10 years ago, Unger said.

 "Now, we're just enormously populated," Unger said.

  In the House of Delegates, outgoing Del. Craig Blair, R-Berkeley, said he expects a gain of 2 1/2 to three delegate districts in the Eastern Panhandle and doesn't believe the region will be "cheated" like it was 10 years ago.

Populations in legislative districts must be no more than 5 percent greater or less than the ideal population.

For the 100-member House, the ideal population would be about 18,530 per delegate. For the 34-member state Senate, the ideal would be about 109,000 per two-senator district.

While unsuccessful, the federal lawsuit challenging the redistricting process 10 years ago that created the sprawling nine-county 15th senatorial district "proved we were willing to stand up and fight," Unger said.

"The Eastern Panhandle is going to be at the table (this year) and we're going to be ready when the time comes," he said.

Unger said a special session likely will be needed to redraw the lines.

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