Redistricting poised to split Williamsburg area Congressional districts

, and Contact | |

A Richmond federal appellate court's ruling Thursday on redistricting will have big implications for the Greater Williamsburg area.

Williamsburg and James City County are currently entirely in the 1st Congressional District, represented by U.S. Rep. Rob Wittman, R-Westmoreland.

The court ruling splits the region between two Congressional districts: U.S Rob Wittman, R-Westmoreland, conservative leaning 1st District, and the much more competitive, swing-shifting 2nd District, represented by U.S. Rep. Scott Rigell, R-Virginia Beach.

The ruling by appeals court judge Albert Diaz came in response to allegations that the General Assembly violated the Voting Rights Act by packing too many African-Americans into the 3rd District represented by Rep. Robert C. "Bobby" Scott, D-Newport News.

The issue with the first redrawing was whether the General Assembly looked only at race in moving people from one district to another during the 2011 redistricting, in the aftermath of the 2010 Census.

The new map brings Williamsburg, Poquoson, all of York County and eastern James City County into the 2nd District, the same district as the northern sections of Hampton, half of Norfolk and all of Virginia Beach.

The western portions of James City County will remain in the 1st district.

While the 1st District has been reliably Republican, the 2nd District has flipped back in forth in recent years and typically draws national attention from both parties. Rigell, viewed as a Republican moderate, has held the seat since 2010.

The changes in redistricting mean neither Wittman or Rigell will not represent any parts of Newport News, which will now be represented by Scott.

Isle of Wight County, northern Suffolk and parts of northern Chesapeake will move into the newly drawn 3rd District.

Farther west, the new lines shift Democratic-leaning Richmond and Petersburg from the 3rd District into the strongly Republican 4th district where Rep. Randy Forbes, R-Chesapeake, now lives.

The effect is to reduce the minority population in Scott's district to about 45 percent from 56 percent. It raises the percentage in Forbes' district from 31 percent to roughly 40 percent.

Representatives for Wittman and Rigell both declined to comment Thursday evening on the court's ruling. Kaylin Minton, a spokeswoman for Rigell, said the Congressman wouldn't be issuing any statements because of the pending appeal from the Virginia Republican Congressional delegation.

John McGlennon, a member of the James City County Board of Supervisors and chairman of the political science department at William and Mary, said the ruling means Williamsburg will likely see its political influence further diluted.

"It means we will continue to be in a district where the bulk of the population is centered away from us, which makes it a little harder to get the attention of representatives," McGlennon said.

"We become a smaller portion of the districts of two representatives, that makes it a little bit more challenging, it would be nice if we could all be included in the district that was centered on the Peninsula."

He said while it is likely the U.S. Supreme Court will consider an appeal, its unlikely they'll reverse the decision. "It's kind of hard to imagine we won't be seeing the election under the new lines," McGlennon said.

The Supreme Court has not said yet whether it will hear the appeal, which could happen any time during its current term . The Supreme Court said late last year it would like to review the matter, reversing an earlier decision to simply leave the issue with a panel of federal judges.

Quentin Kidd, a political scientist at Christopher Newport University, said he agreed with McGlennon that it was unlikely the Supreme Court would overturn the new maps. But he said he thought the greater Williamsburg area would gain some influence on Capitol Hill by having it divided between two U.S. Representatives.

"Your influence increases if you have two members of Congress that are looking out for your community," Kidd said. In addition, Kidd said the added competitiveness of the 2nd district would boost the Williamsburg area's political visibility.

Geoffrey Skelley, a political analyst at the University of Virginia's Center for Politics, said Rigell may continue to face criticism he hasn't been sensitive enough to the needs of the Peninsula.

"He's out of Virginia Beach, I would be surprised if that doesn't change. That still is where the majority of the population is in the district," Skelley said.

Local political operatives said they were analyzing the decision to see how it would guide their strategy.

Jenn Tierney, chairman of the James City County Democratic Committee, said unlike Kidd she still viewed the 2nd district as largely being a conservative jurisdiction and didn't see much opportunity for Democrats to make gains there or in the 1st District.

"We're glad they've corrected the problem down in the 3rd District," Tierney said.

Del. Brenda Pogge, R-James City, said she wasn't pleased with the ruling.

"Nobody likes it. I think in a presidential year with high turnout it's going to cause chaos with the split precincts," Pogge said. "The heart of the old 1st District has been moved into the 2nd District, which is not compact or contiguous. I think it's a political thing to elect another Democrat."

Amanda Johnston, chairman of the James City County Republican party, said she was also reviewing the order.

"I haven't looked at it down to the precinct level yet, I had noticed that James City County is split between the first and the second. In general, I don't like to see localities split. Obviously, James City County itself is a community of interest," Johnston said.

"Also, regardless of party, I think folks here see a lot of Rob Wittman, he's built a lot of good relationships. I think they will be disappointed if it turns out that they can't have him as their representative."

Bogues can be reached by phone at 757-345-2346. Vaughan can be reached at 757-345-2343. Ress can be reached at 757-247-45345.

Who is Rep. Scott Rigell?

Scott Rigell is the 2nd District Congressman, who is a Republican. He hails from Virginia Beach. The eastern portion of James City County and Williamsburg will move into his district.

Rigell, 55, is a former car dealer. He is married to wife Teri Rigell. They have four children and four grandchildren. Rigell is considered to be a more moderate Republican than U.S. Rep. Rob Wittman, his colleague in the 1st District. The western portion of James City County will remain in Wittman's district.

Copyright © 2018, The Virginia Gazette