State redistricting task force seeks local input
Members of the State Senate Redistricting Task Force met in Marlinton last Thursday to hear opinions from local and regional residents about the future of West Virginiaﾒs political boundaries.
Chaired by Senator John Unger (D-Berkeley), the committee also included Sen. Doug Facemire (D-Braxton), Sen. Clark Barnes (R-Randolph), Senator Richard Browning (D-Wyoming), Sen. William Laird (D-Fayette), Sen. Ron Miller (D-Greenbrier) and Sen. Larry Edgell (D-Wetzel).
Delegate Denise Campbell, who represents Pocahontas and Randolph counties, also attended the meeting.
Unger said the committee is charged with making recommendations about redistricting the stateﾒs three Congressional districts and 17 senate districts, but would leave redistricting of House of Delegates districts up to that body.
Redistricting must be accomplished every 10 years following the US Census to comply with the ﾓone person, one voteﾔ rule and to ensure the districts are compact and contiguous.
Unger said the committee members are making themselves aware of ﾓcommunities of interestﾔ between counties. For example, Pocahontas County is in the Hardwood Alliance along with Webster and Randolph counties, but is in the Third Congressional District represented by Nick Rahall (D-WV), while the other two are in the Second represented by Shelly Moore-Capito (R-WV).
The Third District cuts a wide swath across the southern portion of West Virginia and reaches from Pocahontas County in the east to Cabell County on the Ohio River. The Second District belts the state similarly and includes Jefferson County in the Eastern Panhandle to Mason and Jackson counties on the stateﾒs western border.
Population shifts to the Eastern Panhandle and the north central part of the state could mean an increase in area for the Third District if the lines that dissect West Virginia remain the same.
Unger said the redistricting project 10 years ago was ﾓdone in secretﾔ and he believes that West Virginians want more input into the process.
ﾓWe want to hear what worked, what hasnﾒt,ﾔ Unger said, noting that Pocahontas Countyﾒs senatorial district is one of the largest in the state. Pocahontas is the southernmost county in the 15th district, which rises up to a portion of Berkeley and encompasses Randolph, Pendleton, Hampshire and Morgan, along with portions of Upshur and Grant.
If Unger had not determined for himself what the stateﾒs new districts may look like, a former Charleston attorney has spent a good deal of time studying population shifts, drawing lines and making recommendations to the committee.
Thornton Cooper said he had been studying redistricting since 1980 and had tried to be involved in the process during every redistricting effort.
Cooper said he wanted to work for single member districts.
ﾓPower should flow from the people,ﾔ Cooper said.
Cooper said he liked to keep those communities of interest together, and, thus, drew lines so that counties like Pocahontas with small populations would not be divided, only as a last resort. He drew more than one option for each of the Congressional Districts and Senatorial Districts, as well.
Cooperﾒs submissions are available at http://www.legis.state.wv.us/Joint/redistricting/citizensubmissions.cfm
State residents can also follow the progress on Facebook and Twitter.
Unger said the meeting in Marlinton, while it did not draw a large crowd of citizens, drew more county elected officials than any other. Pocahontas County Commission president David Fleming was there, along with County Clerk Missy Bennett. County Commissioners from Randolph and Nicholas County also attended the public meeting.
The legislature will meet in special session in August. Unger said hopes to have the public meetings concluded by then.