Redistricting map changed due to white supremacist group

Published: Oct. 11, 2021 at 8:44 PM EDT
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CHARLESTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) - The West Virginia Legislature began a special session on Monday morning focused on redistricting.

The House of Delegates and the Senate both passed maps out of their redistricting committees for the full chambers to consider.

A number of changes were made to the House map since it was first proposed, including moving districts in the city of Huntington, Putnam County and Kanawha County. The most debated change was a line in Pocahontas County that was moved because of a white supremacist group.

“That issue is that the headquarters, the worldwide headquarters from what I understand, of the (National Alliance) is located in Pocahontas County,” House of Delegates Chief of Staff Jeff Billings said when asked about the change. “The member that currently holds that seat is a young man of color.”

Del. Caleb Hanna (R-Nicholas) would have been the incumbent member in the new district, and Del. Brandon Steele (R-Raleigh) requested the change because Hanna is African American, Billings told the committee.

Billings said the change was made under a “community of interest” rule that allows certain areas to be grouped together. Those include things like drawing districts based on school districts, shopping areas and county lines.

”The issue was that the delegate that currently holds that seat and could possibly run for that seat is a young man of color,” Billings said when asked again about the map change in relation to the National Alliance.

The updated map will now be considered by the entire House, where more changes can be made. Two amendments proposed by Democrats, that focused on Mingo and Marshall counties, were thrown out on Monday. Democrats also raised concerns that 42 of 55 county lines are broken in the current House proposal despite Constitutional guidelines that say counties should remain whole whenever possible.

“Will it surprise you that roughly 36 percent of the Democratic caucus will now be facing each other, versus roughly five percent of the Republican caucus will be facing each other,” Del. Shawn Fluharty (D-Ohio) asked.

“I’m neither surprised nor, no I don’t know,” Billings responded. He said that no political data and no addresses of current delegates was used in the making of the maps.

In the Senate, lawmakers are concerned that the two maps that were advanced by the Redistricting Committee on Monday are just shells that will be completely changed tomorrow with amendments. Cabell County, which has never before been divided, could be split up through the amendments.

“Our fundamental law in this state is the West Virginia Constitution,” Sen. Mike Woelfel (D-Cabell) said before the maps were voted on. “By dividing up Cabell County, which it will do with this map that has not been published yet, is being done for one purpose and that is gerrymandering.”

“Once this gets to amendment stage on the floor of the full Senate, maybe a number of amendments that people are going to offer to try to change this,” Senate Redistricting Committee Chairman Sen. Charles Trump (R-Morgan) said after the meeting. “There have been rumors that one of those amendments might seek to divide Cabell County. I would not support that.”

A public hearing has been scheduled for people to share their opinions on the proposed maps with lawmakers before final versions are passed. It will be in the House Chamber at 8 a.m. Wednesday, with speaker sign-up starting at 7 a.m.

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