West Virginia lawmakers OK redistrict maps amid criticism
CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — West Virginia’s House of Delegates passed its redistricting map Wednesday amid sharp criticism from Democrats that the new single-member district system for all 100 delegates was weighted heavily in favor of supermajority Republicans.
Based on the 2020 census, the House map is going through wholesale changes from a decade ago because seats are being apportioned into single-member districts after passage of a 2018 bill. Currently, there are 67 districts and more than half of the House is elected from multiple-member districts.
The House version passed 79-20 with one member not voting. It now goes to the state Senate.
“We have taken care to keep counties and municipalities as whole as possible where it’s been requested,” said Mineral County Republican Gary Howell, the House redistricting committee chairman.
Every amendment offered by Democrats to make changes in proposed district lines was rejected Wednesday along party lines.
Fayette County Republican Tom Fast said the redistricting committee was transparent in its work and more than a dozen hearings were held across the state to receive public input, to which Kanawha County Democrat Jim Barach replied, “Just because we had the hearings doesn’t mean the map follows that.”
For instance, the House map would split Wetzel County into four districts and place incumbent Democrats Dave Pethtel and Lisa Zukoff, currently one district apart, into the same district.
“I knew that was my sign to retire and I would not seek reelection in 2022,” said Pethtel, who was first elected to the House in 1988.
Kanawha County Democrat Mike Pushkin said he voted in 2018 for the single-member district bill, but this isn’t what he envisioned.
“I’d really like to know who we have consulted in drawing this map,” he said. “What we have before us is a gerrymandered mess. If your goal is to protect political power well into the future, it was done quite well.”
Hancock County Republican Mark Zatezalo said he was shocked when he reviewed the House district boundaries that were proposed in 2010 when the Legislature was in control of Democrats. In the 2014 election, the GOP gained control of both the House and Senate for the first time in 80 years.
“If you’re that party or we are that party now, or whoever draws these boundaries or wins the battle of how these boundaries are drawn, we’re going to have to do our job,” Zatezalo said. “Or, I don’t care where the boundaries are, I don’t care what lines you have and I don’t care how comfortable you are, you will lose.”
Kanawha County Democrat Larry Rowe said West Virginia needs to look at what other states have done to take redistricting out of legislators’ hands.
“This needs to be done by an independent commission,” Rowe said. “We shouldn’t be redistricting ourselves. It should not be incumbent driven. It should be driven by communities of interest. The constitution says that we need to respect county lines. A lot of us are going to have a lot of trouble trying to explain the ziggy-zaggy districts that we are creating in this bill.”
According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 15 states give the primary responsibility for legislative redistricting to a commission.
After the 2020 census, West Virginia lost one of its three U.S. House seats. On Wednesday, the state Senate voted 30-2 to approve a map to redraw the state into two congressional districts. Two senators did not participate. The House advanced its congressional map to a second reading Thursday.
Both the Senate and House versions would place U.S. Reps. David McKinley and Alex Mooney in the same northern district, while Rep. Carol Miller would be in the southern district. All three are Republicans.
The Senate postponed a third reading on its own 17-district redistricting bill until Thursday.