W.Va. lawmaker: New House districts aren't pretty

August 09, 2011|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD |
  • Duke

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. — If the newly redrawn districts of the 100-member West Virginia House of Delegates could be challenged in court for being "ugly," Del. Walter Duke says he could provide at least a couple examples in the Eastern Panhandle.

Otherwise, the retired school teacher turned state lawmaker said Tuesday that he believes one of the only legal arguments to the House redistricting plan he would make is the newly approved redistricting plan's failure to adhere to the one-person, one-vote principle.

"I wish I could sue for ugly," Duke said when asked about a possible legal challenge of the House redistricting plan that was adopted by lawmakers on Friday.

"The process was terrible. What they did and didn't do was terrible," said Duke, R-Berkeley.

Berkeley County gained an additional House seat in the approved redistricting plan thanks to explosive population growth in the last decade, but the county also was left with newly redrawn House districts that split the City of Martinsburg and included Berkeley Springs, W.Va., about 25 miles away in Morgan County.

Del. John Doyle, D-Jefferson, said he "tried like the dickens" to fix the split in Martinsburg, but added that he couldn't come up with a solution.

While not on the special House Redistricting Committee, Doyle said he was asked to present a redistricting plan for the eight eastern West Virginia counties that limited the number of additional House seats in the region to two.

Doyle said he didn't see the plan devised by Duke and the other delegates in Berkeley, Morgan and Hampshire counties until Monday or Tuesday of last week's special legislative session held for redistricting.

While he didn't have time to analyze the plan Duke submitted, Doyle said he stands by comments he made on the House floor Friday that the plan ultimately approved made "more logical sense."

"I was disappointed that we didn't get more single-member districts," Doyle said.

Duke, meanwhile, said he found that maps meant to depict the newly redrawn districts described in the 483-page House redistricting bill didn't match on Friday, but the House rejected his push to delay the vote to address the conflict.

If the redistricting plan is approved by acting Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin and survives a possible court challenge, residents in several House districts across the state will retain the opportunity to vote for more than one delegate — up to as many as five in one district — to represent them in the Legislature.

Duke contends the number of delegates in each district should be the same like the U.S. House of Representatives in alignment with the one-person, one-vote principle.

That view has been shared by the state Chamber of Commerce, which continues to review the redistricting legislation to see if "our participation in a possible lawsuit makes sense," Chamber President Steve Roberts said Tuesday.

The Associated Press reported that the chamber already has asked acting Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin to veto the House plan, writing him Monday after a meeting of chamber board members, Roberts said. The state Republican Party is also calling for a House plan veto.

Tomblin's office has not received the official versions of the redistricting bills for review, a spokesman said Tuesday.

While Duke doesn't believe Tomblin will veto the bill, the delegate says the acting governor could gain politically in areas of the state that were angered by the final outcome.

The AP reported Tuesday that those mulling a possible legal challenge are Kanawha County attorney Thornton Cooper, the chamber and the West Virginia GOP, who have been advocating single-member districts for all 100 House of Delegates seats. The final plan increases such districts from 36 to 47. It distributes 40 more seats among two- and three-member districts. Two four-seat districts and one with five members, representing Monongalia County, round out the plan.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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