No stranger to long-time members of the Madison County Democratic Committee, Founding Board Member and former President of OneVirginia2021, Linda Perriello posted this heartfelt letter on her Facebook page on Monday evening.
Many of you know of my active involvement in redistricting reform and have been asked about my position on Virginia’s Redistricting Amendment to be voted on in November. It makes sense to me to try addressing this important issue in one place, as painful of a topic as it has become for me.
A number of years ago, I plunged headlong into the movement for redistricting reform in Virginia, joining a dedicated group of advocates who had already spent nearly a decade fighting against the odds to change the Constitution of the Commonwealth. Our goal: to end gerrymandering and its heinous consequences. We had two simple slogans that said it all: ‘You’ve Been Gerrymandered’ and ‘Citizens should pick their representatives, instead of politicians picking their voters’. The conventional wisdom said we had no chance to move an issue that was far too complex for voters to understand and a non-starter with what was then a gerrymandered partisan majority.
These pundits underestimated just how fed up the public was with a rigged political system and how dearly we valued our right to hold our representatives accountable. Working tirelessly and putting in thousands of miles and hours, we spread across the Commonwealth to town halls and polling places to educate the public. Crowds enthusiastically embraced reform and voters literally grabbed petitions out of our hands to sign them. OneVirginia2021, the organization forming the heart and head of the fight to end gerrymandering, established an impressive bipartisan committee that included esteemed figures like Wyatt Durrette and A.E.Dick Howard to draft an amendment to the Constitution of the Commonwealth. They produced a draft amendment that all Virginians could truly be proud of – no politicians, no partisanship, no gerrymandering. We were ready to put the people back in charge of democracy and to drive a stake into the heart of the gerrymander.
Sadly, the conventional wisdom struck back with a vengeance. During the make-or-break 2019 General Assembly session, the draft amendment was given less than cursory consideration by the Virginia Senate and without a serious push to find a patron— Republican or Democratic — for the Amendment in the House, the draft amendment failed. Instead, leaders from both parties produced a substitute amendment designed to look like reform, while keeping power solidly in the hands of party leadership.
I was desperate to salvage the Amendment, and encouraged many pro-reform Delegates to accept half a loaf, believing there might be improvements before the final version. But what emerged from the conference committee at the eleventh hour of the last day of the General Assembly was an Amendment that accomplished neither of the goals we had worked so hard to pass: gerrymandering was neither mentioned nor specifically prohibited and the ‘independent’ commission drawing the maps would be composed of 50% politicians, who in turn would have significant power to select the remaining 50% of members. General Assembly members were given less than an hour to make a decision about supporting an Amendment, details of which they had neither seen nor read.
Over the months following initial passage, many Democrats, especially the members of the House VLBC, worked valiantly to write and pass enabling legislation in the 2020 session that was supposed to ‘fix’ the shortcomings in the Amendment. Sadly, the most important of these reforms failed to pass. These failed fixes, acknowledged by pro-reform advocates and courageously supported by Speaker Filler-Corn, would have provided guardrails for who could or could not serve on the Commission, explicitly prohibited gerrymandering, and provided adequate guarantees for participation by persons of color. The sad truth this all revealed is that the Richmond power brokers had done something far more insidious than defeat fair districts. They had consolidated power and done it in a way that got them accolades for advancing ‘reform’.
After devoting eight years of my life to ending partisan gerrymandering, I will sadly vote NO on the Amendment this November. I believe that the current Amendment is not a partial victory but a roadblock to real reform that still must come in the years ahead. We can start again with a good amendment next year while pressuring the current majority to draw maps as close to our original principles as possible. As for the amendment Virginia needs and deserves, we already have it written and waiting for fair consideration!