Va. 4th District election outcome a voting rights victory

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By Wayne Dawkins

For much of Tuesday night, it looked like Hillary Clinton would lose battleground state Virginia, a possibility most devastating because Donald Trump and the Republicans pulled their resources out of the commonwealth to battle elsewhere.

Before midnight, returns came in from Democratic strongholds in the “crescent,” the Washington, D.C. suburbs, Richmond capital-area and Hampton Roads cities that arc around Interstates 95 and 64. Clinton’s 49 to 45 percent victory kept Virginia blue, but was not enough to save her and win the U.S. presidency because her battlegrounds fell in North Carolina, Florida, Ohio, and Pennsylvania.

While Trump basks in victory and Clinton and her Democrats mourn, a small, remarkable victory occurred in Virginia. Donald McEachin was elected to the redrawn 4th Congressional District of Virginia, a territory that included Chesapeake and Suffolk in Hampton Roads and the Richmond area, where the state legislator was based.
McEachin, who prevailed over Mike Wade, a Richmond-area sheriff, benefitted from a protracted redistricting fight. McEachin joined 3rd District Congressman Robert C. “Bobby” Scott as Virginia’s second black congressman. Scott’s redrawn district previously was oversubscribed with African-American citizens.

How much, you ask? When 12-term Representative Scott won his first race in 1992, the district was less than 40 percent black. After 2010, the district artificially inflated to 56 percent African-American. Such concentration diluted black voting power elsewhere in the state.

Republicans who controlled both chambers of the statehouse and drew the boundaries after the 2010 census, isolated many black citizens into Scott’s district one of 13. One out of five Virginians are African-American and other racial minorities have grown in the commonwealth. Demographically, Virginia’s congressional districts were grotesquely gerrymandered. Politically, it’s obvious. In a state where voters choose who they believe is the best person, not party, for governor – four Democrats and three Republicans since 1989 – because of Republican gerrymandering this decade House districts are overwhelmingly GOP.

A U.S. District court judge agreed and ordered the legislature to redraw the boundaries. The Republicans balked and stalled in the spring and summer of 2015. By spring of this year, the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously dismissed an appeal by three Republican congressmen attempting to invalidate a new voting map. One of the congressmen, Randy Forbes, abandoned his redrawn 4th District in order to run for office in the 2nd District, where Republican incumbent Scott Rigell vacated. Forbes’ gamble failed. He lost to a GOP challenger in the primary.

Democrat McEachin beat the Republican challenger 56-44 percent in the reconstituted 4th and gave Virginia a second representative of color. CBS News this week called the contest a race to watch.

The win is an incremental step in eventually drawing political lines in which voters chose their leaders instead of politicians choosing their voters. Citizens, mark 2021 on your calendars. That’s the next time congressional lines are adjusted immediately after the census. Remember to push for less politically polarized districts that encourage competition instead of malaise.

Wayne Dawkins is author of “City Son: Andrew W. Cooper’s Impact on Modern-Day Brooklyn” which focused on voting rights and redistricting.

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About Author

Contributing writer Dawkins is a professor of journalism at the Scripps Howard School of Journalism and Communications at Hampton University. He is author of "Black Journalists: The NABJ Story," and "City Son: Andrew W. Cooper's Impact on Modern-Day Brooklyn."

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