NEW INFO: Mason County Joins Putnam in Redistricting Lawsuit

By: Michael Hyland; The Associated Press, Anna Baxter Email
By: Michael Hyland; The Associated Press, Anna Baxter Email

UPDATE 9/12/11
MASON COUNTY, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- Mason County will join Putnam County is a lawsuit against the redistricting process in the state.

Mason County Commission Rick Handley tells the decision was made last Thursday during their meeting. He says it passed with a unanimous 3-0 vote.

Handley says he was disappointed with the way the redistricting came out, with Mason County not receiving it's own delegate.

He tells the commissioners feel like they owe it to the citizen's and they are not giving up.

UPDATE 8/23/11
PUTNAM COUNTY, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- During a meeting Tuesday, the Putnam County Commission voted 2-1 to file a lawsuit if acting Governor Earl Ray Tomblin doesn't veto the redistricting plan approved over the weekend by West Virginia lawmakers.

The House passed the bill 55-38 Saturday. The Senate voted 15-14 Sunday to send Tomblin a corrected redistricting plan.

This is the second bill that lawmakers have passed. Tomblin vetoed the original bill because it overlapped delegate districts in two counties.

This latest plan approved is much like the original one, but it fixed the errors.

Under the plan, Putnam County is only guaranteed one delegate. Commissioners say that doesn't fairly represent the county's growing population.

Governor Tomblin tells he won't be surprised if a lawsuit is filed.

"I think there have been lawsuits filed after every 10 year redistricting," Tomblin said. "I know 10 years ago, residents in eastern panhandle filed a lawsuit in federal court, which upheld the legislature's position. I would not be surprised that lawsuits are filed."

Once the legislature gets Tomblin the bill, he has 15 days to decide sign it.

Tomblin says he plans to look over the bill and if there are no errors, he will sign it.

UPDATE 8/21/11 @ 8:30 p.m.
CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) -- It's taken two special sessions, but West Virginia lawmakers hope they've finished the once-a-decade redrawing of legislative and congressional districts.

The Senate voted 15-14 Sunday to send acting Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin a corrected redistricting plan for the House of Delegates.

The House passed the bill 55-38 Saturday. Lawmakers ended their special session Sunday.

The plan is much like the one approved during a five-day special session earlier this month.

Tomblin vetoed that bill because it overlapped delegate districts in two counties.

But he's signed that session's state Senate and congressional redistricting plans.

The House plan fixes the overlap errors. Delegates also approved minor changes to nearly half of its 67 districts.

But supporters of individual districts for all 100 House seats expect to challenge this House plan in court.

UPDATE 8/20/11 @ 3 p.m.
CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) -- West Virginia's House of Delegates has approved a new redistricting plan.

The state Senate will vote Sunday on the bill after Saturday's 55-38 House passage.

Lawmakers are replacing a House plan approved earlier but vetoed because of technical errors.

As before, this bill features 47 single-member districts. Another 40 seats are in two- and three-member districts. It also includes one five-seat district and two each with four members.

Numerous minor changes approved Saturday include ensuring a Summers or Monroe county delegate in a two-seat district with a Raleigh County majority.

A Republican bid for 100 single-seat districts fell short, 41-55. A dozen other amendments also failed.

Saturday's passage followed three hours of debate. Some plan critics are vowing to file legal challenges.

Lawmakers also passed $15 million for road paving.

UPDATE 8/18/11 @ 10:30 p.m.
CHARLESTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- The do-over special session on redistricting began at the Capitol Thursday, with House members beginning to fix the technical errors discovered in the bill that passed two weeks ago.

Each day of this special session costs taxpayers more than $30,000, a fact that’s fueled critics who say the process has been rushed.

Del. Brent Boggs (D-Braxton) chairs the House redistricting committee and says he thinks people understand that lawmakers need to spend time over the next few days to ensure the accuracy and validity of the new electoral map.

“We want to make sure we have all these things in, we have them proofed, have a lot of eyes on them and make sure that we have them all finalized," says Boggs.

But outside the Capitol, people are asking: shouldn't that have happened the first time?

"I think it's really unnecessary that they do these things, if they can't make up their mind. It's a disgrace," says Catherine Chieffo, of Braxton County.

Charleston resident Michael Layne adds, "They're having to do the same job twice and probably billing us twice for it."

Republicans frequently criticized the once-in-a-decade redistricting process as not being open enough to the public and carried out too quickly, all in an effort to protect incumbents.

"And, it's going to cost the taxpayers $140,000+ for us to fix it," says Del. Patrick Lane (R-Kanawha)

On Thursday, Republicans tried to recess the special session until September, when lawmakers will be at the Capitol anyway for interim meetings.

But Democrats voted against that saying the public's had plenty of time to weigh in on this already.

"Why do that? To come back in September, I think, would just cause more confusion, more concern," says Boggs.

Boggs pointed out with the need to redraw the maps again, lawmakers were given an additional two weeks beyond what was expected to talk over issues with voters in their communities.

"The more people that look at it, the more issues that are going to be brought out. I don't think that's confusion. I think that's providing the public an opportunity to take a look at the product," says Lane.

Boggs says lawmakers are still on track to finish this process in a shorter amount of time than in years past.

"Even with coming back into session for the next few days, we're still quite far ahead of the last three redistrictings that have lasted as many as 11, 12, 18 days I believe," says Boggs.

But, that doesn't ease some people's concerns.

"If I was working and had to do a job twice, I would be fired," says Chieffo.

While lawmakers are in Charleston, they're also working on a bill to put $15 million dollars toward paving secondary roads.

They think they'll have everything wrapped up by Sunday.

UPDATE 8/17/11
PUTNAM COUNTY, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- Fired up over the redrawing of the lines, officials in Putnam County are threatening to file a lawsuit.

They say the West Virginia House of Delegates failed to accurately represent those living there.

As it stands now, Putnam County would be broken into five different delegate districts -- something officials say is confusing.

Numbers from the 2010 census show Putnam County's population grew to more than 55,000 people. That's a significant increase compared to surrounding counties.

Officials say the slicing and dicing of the county lines has put everyone living there at a disadvantage.

"We don't feel it should have been done this way; it's going to confuse voters," Putnam County Clerk Brian Wood said. "Basically they will not know what delegate district they live in unless they contact us, and they'll still be confused until they see the maps."

Wood added, "It just makes no sense."

The West Virginia Legislature recently voted on a new plan, dividing Putnam County into five districts. However, with the new boundaries set, the county is only guaranteed one delegate to represent a growing population.

"By all means, we have to protest this, and we have to protest this in the strongest means available to us," County Commissioner Joe Haynes said. "In the 15th District, I can vote for one delegate but my friends in Poca are in the 13th District, and they can vote for two delegates."

A lawsuit is pending, but the county isn't alone in this. Other cities, including Hurricane, also are ready to join the fight.

"It's wrong. The way it's done is absolutely wrong," Mayor Scott Edwards said. "It should be done logical."

Hurricane's lines are included in a district with other more southern counties.

Those representatives don't even live in the town or county he or she represents.

"They don't come here, they don't shop here, they don't go to church with us," Edwards said. "And their kids don't go to school with our kids."

Commissioners say the problem isn't limited to Hurricane or even Putnam County.

Even though the county presented a plan to cut costs and consolidate precincts, officials say that was ignored, making it less about the people and more about the incumbents.

"Instead their proposal was to carve this county up to prop up counties around us that are losing population," Haynes said. "People of Putnam County should be outraged at that."

There's only one single member district in Putnam County under the new plan.

With the population, Putnam County could have three single-member districts -- something county officials want to see.

They're hoping with the House back in session Thursday, they will not only correct the technical flaws with the new lines, but rethink how to accurately represent voters and give them a voice.

If something is not changed, Haynes says it is likely the county will take legal action.

UPDATE 8/10/11
CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) -- At least one fatal flaw has doomed legislation that redraws districts in West Virginia's House of Delegates.

Acting Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin on Wednesday said he'll have to veto the bill.

Tomblin said he also plans to call the Legislature back into session next week to revisit a House plan.

The bill that passed during last week's special session puts 14 sections of a Kanawha County voting precinct into two different delegate districts.

Officials continue to review the flawed bill for other errors. They're also checking the redistricting legislation for the state Senate and the three congressional districts.

Tomblin had already been called on to veto the bill by advocates of single-member districts for all 100 seats.

Critics of the House's plan also questioned whether it met state constitutional requirements.

UPDATE 8/5/11 @ 11 p.m.
CHARLESTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- The House of Delegates approved its redistricting plan Friday night. Creating a map means major changes in Kanawha County and other part of the state.

Kanawha County’s 30th District, which is currently represented by seven delegates, will be split into two districts. One district will be represented by four delegates, while the other will be represented by three.

Lawmakers spent the last few days negotiating this deal, though some still aren’t thrilled with it.

"When you have a chance to do something like this to move our county, to move our district and our constituents forward, I think you have to take that chance," says Del. Doug Skaff (D-Kanawha).

The 30th District is the biggest district in the state. It has become the focal point over the debate about smaller districts.

Del. Eric Nelson (R) says the split is "not necessarily where we want it to be, but it's a small step."

With this agreement, the state’s new largest district will be in Monongalia County. A district will increase from the current four delegates to five.

Skaff says the districts will be split so that he, Dels. Bobbie Hatfield (D), Bonnie Brown (D) and Nelson will represent one district.

Dels. Nancy Guthrie (D), Danny Wells and Mark Hunt will represent the other district.

"Well, we're weakened,” says Guthrie, who advocated leaving the 30th District intact. “No matter how you slice it, when you've got seven voices advocating for you in a district, you're a lot more powerful than when you've got four or three."

For months, Republicans have pushed to break up the large districts and go to 100 single-member districts. They say that would truly live up to the idea of one person/one vote.

But, some members of Kanawha's big district have said they work well for the county as a team.

“Did that favor a lot of our constituents? Yes. But the question is, is that fair and reasonable? No,” Nelson says.

When asked how intense the negotiations were, Guthrie described them as “pretty bad.” In the initial draft map released to the public on Monday, the 30th district was left largely untouched.

"Why would you want to give up seven voices and seven votes?" Guthrie asks.

Guthrie says amendments were being proposed for the 30th District that did not satisfy several of the district’s delegates.

Thirtieth District delegates say there was pressure on them to break up the district given that many others were being broken up, or even converted to single-delegate districts.

"I do not think we lose any power. We had the same number of delegates before this redistricting, and then we leave today having the same number of delegates," Skaff says.

The final plan includes 47 single-delegate districts, up from the current 36.

Even with these changes, Republicans still opposed the overall plan. It passed 64-33.

"We're not happy with the results," Nelson says.

The plan that passed Friday also splits the 32nd District in the northern part of the county into three single-delegate districts.

In other business, the House also approved a plan that would phase out the food tax and increase the state’s rainy day fund.

Delegates also approved a bill that sends more coal severance tax revenue to the counties that produce coal.

UPDATE 8/5/11 @ 8:50 p.m.
CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) -- West Virginia's House of Delegates has approved its proposed redistricting plan.

Friday's 64-33 vote came during the special session for redrawing both legislative and congressional boundaries.

The House plan increases single-seat districts from 36 to 47. It keeps the other 53 seats in multi-member districts. It was amended Friday to split a seven-seat district in Kanawha County into two districts of four and three seats.

Republicans lined up to blast the House's overall approach to redistricting. Delegates from both parties complained about changes to their areas.

The Senate on Friday passed a congressional plan, 27-4. It would move Mason County from the 2nd U.S. House district to the 3rd.

The Senate's own plan remains pending.

Advancing Friday was acting Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin's phased-in food tax repeal.

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- Changes are coming at the Capitol, where lawmakers are debating plans to redraw the state’s electoral boundaries.

Lawmakers are in town this week for a special session focused mostly on redistricting, the once-in-a-decade process where lawmakers have to account for shifts in the population.

Ultimately, it means who represents you in Charleston and Washington could change.

A House of Delegates committee held a public hearing Monday evening during which several people called for a major change in how the state operates.

They called for 100 districts in which people elect one delegate.

Under a plan released shortly before the hearing, they could get some of what they want but not all of it.

Robin Holstein, a concerned resident, says under the current system delegates “do not fairly represent areas, such as where I live in the upper Kanawha Valley."

Currently, there are 36 single-delegate districts. The remaining delegates come from larger, multi-member districts. The largest such district is the 30th in Kanawha County. Seven delegates represent the 30th district.

"With the seven members, we have a lot of power, and also we can get projects done," says Del. Bobbie Hatfield (D), one of the 30th district’s seven delegates.

Keith Morgan, who lives in the 30th district and represents West Virginia Citizens Defense League, disagrees.

"I feel like I have little to no meaningful representation," Morgan says.

Republicans have supported going to 100 single-member districts, but have gotten push back from some Democrats who say the current system helps them better serve the people.

"I do not believe this is a Democratic or Republican kind of thing. It is merely a good government thing," says Tom Crouser, a 30th district resident who advocates for single-delegate districts.

House leaders unveiled a map showing some changes we can expect.

Among the main takeaways, there would be 11 more single-delegate districts than there are now.

Also, Mason County would make up the majority of a district that would be shared with Putnam County, meaning Mason could get its own delegate. That’s something local leaders have been pushing for.

But, some people are criticizing this process.

"I just don't see the cooperation. I don't see folks listening to both sides of the aisle," says Mike Stuart, chairman of the West Virginia Republican Party.

Another concern mentioned by several people was that Monday’s public hearing was announced less than five hours before it happened.

"The public hearing was called today because that's when everyone came in town. If we waited until tomorrow, then we keep the Legislature in town that much longer. So, we just need to start moving, start working on it," says Del. Mike Caputo (D-Marion).

That work will start Tuesday morning when the House redistricting committee meets. Amendments are expected to be proposed before the final vote.

A Senate committee approved that chamber's plan Monday night 16-1.

Meanwhile, candidates running for governor are weighing in on this issue, too.

"If you come out here to the hinterland, as we've come to know it, people are fed up. And, they want one person, one vote. [I] would veto anything that didn't come out of the process that didn't have one person, one vote," says businessman Bill Maloney (R).

Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin (D) says, "From the time I started there were only a total of about 30-some districts. Today, there are nearly 60. And, the Legislature has been moving more towards single-member or smaller districts for the last 30 years. And, I think they'll continue to do that this time in the House of Delegates.”

Tomblin is not going as far as Maloney to say the House should go to all single-member districts, but he says he will support a plan that includes more of them.

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