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Surprise Redistricting Could Dilute Arlington's Power in Richmond

Several Northern Virginia districts would become more competitive for Republicans under plan, decried by opponents as unconstitutional.

A Republican-led effort to redraw Virginia's state Senate districts would essentially dilute the voting power of Arlington in the General Assembly and turn a number of Democratic-controlled areas in Northern Virginia into future political battlegrounds.

The surprise move late Monday took advantage of the absence of 79-year-old Harry Marsh, a Democratic state senator and civil rights leader who was attending the second inauguration of President Barack Obama. With Marsh absent, the redrawn map passed the Senate 20-19 on a party-line vote.

Democrats and progressive organizations have already decried the rushed legislation as unconstitutional. Virginia redraws its legislative boundaries every 10 years and that must win Justice Department approval.

Senate Democratic Leader Dick Saslaw already has vowed to fight the measure in court if it is approved. Saslaw, too, said the measure would kill any hope of compromise on transportation funding — which prompted Gov. Bob McDonnell to distance himself from the legislation Tuesday.

Arlington — which currently enjoys three state senators in its legislative delegation — would lose state Sen. Janet Howell, D-Reston, whose seniority has been key in realizing area concerns in Richmond.

[Click here to see Howell's current and proposed district.]

Democratic Sen. Adam Ebbin would retain a small part of South Arlington, but most of Arlington would fall under the redrawn district of Sen. Barbara Favola.

[Click here to see Favola's current and proposed district.]

"It is unprecedented to have redistricting more than once every 10 years. Further, redistricting is normally done with hearings, public notice, public comment and the ability for members to see the proposals in advance," Ebbin told Patch on Tuesday.

"To have it slapped on our desk with no warning on a day that a member is absent … is unconscionable."

Under the proposed maps, Ebbin would be the sole senator to represent the city of Alexandria. Saslaw and Democratic state Sen. George Barker would be drawn out of that city.

[Click here to see a map of Ebbin's current and proposed district.]

Arlington, a safe area for Democrats, would see Favola's district become substantially more Democratic. Ebbin's district, another Democratic stronghold, would also lose some of its Republican voters.

The result is that Barker, Saslaw and Howell would be in more Republican-friendly district, making them more competitive for future GOP challengers.

The Virginia Public Access Project has analyzed the new districts based on how McDonnell, a Republican, would have performed in 2009.

Howell's district, which currently includes Arlington, went just shy of 45 percent for McDonnell in 2009, for instance. Under the new lines, McDonnell would have enjoyed nearly 48 percent — making that district much more in play in the future if the new maps ultimately win approval.

Overall, the proposed changes would move nearly 2.8 million Virginians who were of voting age in the 2010 U.S. Census into new districts. The changes, then, would affect more than 40 percent of Virginia's 6.1 million voting-age residents, according to Democratic analyst Kenton Ngo.

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