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Redistricting panel warns against gerrymandering

Three people huddled around a painted map of Virginia that hung on a wall in a meeting room in the Capitol. A young man gestured animatedly toward certain counties and legislative districts while his audience nodded in approval.

“And what did you do with Roanoke?” Judy Ford Wason, an adviser to the Independent Bipartisan Advisory Commission on Redistricting, asked the young man.

He suddenly stopped at the question, betraying his uncertainty.

“I … I can’t remember,” confessed Brian Cannon, a third-year law student from the College of William and Mary.

Cannon and first-year law student Brian Rothenburg were at the General Assembly to present to the commission their law school’s redistricting map for the Virginia Redistricting Competition, a contest among colleges and universities to redraw the state’s political boundaries.

Friday’s presentation was part of a series of public forums that the redistricting commission is hosting to encourage citizen involvement in the redistricting process. The panel will hold three more forums over the next week.

The advisory commission was created by Gov. Bob McDonnell to propose how to redraw Virginia’s legislative and congressional districts in light of population changes over the past decade. The governor asked the panel to do its job without regard to political allegiance or concern for protecting parties or incumbents.

However, the real power over redistricting rests with the General Assembly. Legislators will meet in a special session on the matter next month.

Members of the Independent Bipartisan Advisory Commission on Redistricting said lawmakers should be cautious when attempting to draw their new districts.

“There is no excuse for less than mathematical precision,” said William Hurd, a legal consultant to the commission. He emphasized the importance of ensuring the “one man, one vote” principle when carving out districts.

Legislators should not divide minority communities with the intent to take away their “ability to elect the candidate of their choice,” Hurd said.

To show how to redraw political districts in nonpartisan ways, the commission invited colleges and universities to participate in the Virginia Redistricting Competition.

Thirteen schools – including George Mason, Old Dominion and Virginia Commonwealth universities – took up the challenge.

Each had at least one team of students prepare a set of maps. The students presented their maps to the commission at Friday’s forum.

As the website for the Virginia Redistricting Competition explains, redistricting usually is done by the political party in power. “This process has led to increased gerrymandering and has allowed political parties to increase their majorities, effectively limiting competition — the foundation of a healthy functioning democracy — and causing partisan gridlock.”

The students’ entries in the competition will be judged by two national experts on redistricting: Thomas Mann of the Brookings Institution and Norman Ornstein of the American Enterprise Institute. The winners will receive up to $2,000.

Besides the students, a handful of state delegates attended Friday’s forum of the redistricting commission. They included Democrats Joe Morrissey of Highland Springs and Bob Brink of Arlington and John O’Bannon of Henrico County.

Morrissey condemned both parties for gerrymandering districts to protect incumbents.

“It’s disgraceful that politicians are selecting who they want to represent,” Morrissey said. “We’ve got this wonderful panel and these students with their wonderful plans, and the politicians aren’t going to pay any attention to it at all.”

Future Redistricting Forums
The Independent Bipartisan Advisory Commission on Redistricting will hold one more forum at 7 p.m. on March 21 at Norfolk State University. The forum will be in Ballroom 149 of the New Student Center.

The 11-member commission plans to present its report on April 1, a week before the General Assembly holds a special session on redistricting.
For information, contact commission staff member Steven Jones at 804-201-5174 or .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address); or the commission’s chairman, Bob Holsworth, at 804-839-8782 or .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).
Community

Lions Club donates backpacks to elementary school

The Richmond West Breakfast Lions Club (based in western Henrico) recently donated 59 backpacks to the Westover Hills Elementary School on Jahnke Road.

Above, club members display some of the backpacks prior to their distribution. > Read more.

Glen Allen student to perform at Carnegie Hall

Thanks to a first-place win in The American Protege International Vocal Competition 2014, Glen Allen High School student Matija Tomas will travel to New York City to perform at Carnegie Hall in December.

At the first-place winners recital in Weill Hall, Matija will perform Giacomo Puccini’s opera aria, “Chi il bel sogna di doretta.” She will perform with other vocalists from around the world and have the opportunity to win other awards and scholarships.

Locally, Thomas has performed with Richmond’s renowned Glorious Christmas Nights, Christian Youth Theatre, and WEAG’s Urban Gospel Youth Choir. > Read more.

Gayton Baptist Church dedicates new outreach center


The John Rolfe YMCA and Gayton Baptist Church have partnered in an effort to bring greater health and wellness opportunities to the community.

Through this partnership, the John Rolfe Y will run Youth Winter Sports programs, including basketball and indoor soccer, in Gayton’s newly renovated $5.5 million outreach center that features a new gymnasium, youth and teen space, social space with café, meeting space and full service commercial kitchen. > Read more.

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Entertainment

CAT Theatre opens 51st season Oct. 24


CAT Theatre’s 51st season will open with Sherlock Holmes: The Final Adventure, which will run Oct. 24 through Nov. 8. The play is based on the original 1899 play by William Gillette and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and adapted by Steven Dietz, and was the winner of the 2007 Edgar Award for Best Mystery Play.

The story follows Holmes, whose career as the world’s greatest detective seems to have reached its end until he is confronted with a case far too tempting to ignore. When the King of Bohemia faces blackmail by famed opera singer, Irene Adler, Holmes and his companion Dr. Watson find themselves falling into the trap of evil genius Professor Moriarty. > Read more.

Restaurant watch

Find out how your favorite dining establishments fared during their most recent inspections by the Virginia Department of Health. > Read more.

Weekend Top 10


If you’re in the mood for a little music this weekend, you won’t be disappointed! Pete Peterkin, a finalist on America’s Got Talent, will present a musical tribute to the legendary Ray Charles at CACGA tomorrow. Fans of gospel music can head to Sandston Baptist Church for an Eastern Henrico FISH benefit concert. Richmond native and American Idol Season 5 finalist Elliott Yamin will perform at the Weinstein JCC. For all our top picks this weekend, click here! > Read more.

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