AND THEN AGAIN by Tamara Pettit

……West Virginia is set to address redistricting of Legislative Districts at both the State and National level in a few months.  While the 1st District State Senatorial District which now has two Senators will not change, the House of Delegates will divide into single delegate districts.   A bill was passed during the most recent legislative session mandating the change and make no mistake…it will be a drastic change for the State and for us in Hancock County.     The lines will be drawn by population not acreage and ideally each district should comprise 18,000 citizens.  The West Virginia Law Review notes that “one person – one vote” should prevail in the House of Delegates, which is supposed to be “the people’s house” and that “legislators represent people – not acreage.”

…..I think that’s a fair estimate.    I served in the 1st District, a two-member district, and it was not without its flaws.   I was fortunate enough, however, to serve with the late Sam Love, Jr. and current County Commissioner Jeff Davis.  Both gentlemen were committed to the District and although we sometimes voted differently we were able to work as a team when it counted. 

…….West Virginia is one of only ten states to still have multi-member districts.  Some more populous areas of our State, such as Kanawha County, include as many as five members.   I was a member of the house when we did redistricting in 1992 and although I wasn’t on the redistricting committee, the other representative of the 1st District, Sam Love, was a member so we were able to determine our fate.     Remember the 1st District was smaller then and had not yet extended into Brooke County,  so Sam and I would have fallen into the same member district.   Neither of us wanted to run against each other.   I especially did not want to run against Sam because he always got more votes than I did.  So,  we opted to remain a two-delegate district.  Yes, your district was determined based on our political future.  (I can’t always be altruistic, I had to be realistic sometimes!)  To add insult to injury we knew that the loss of population would result in extending the 1st District into Brooke County and Marland Heights in Weirton was the obvious choice. 

……  I recall Sam calling me into his office where he had a big map on his desk and a magic marker in his hand.   He outlined the alternatives and we then discussed a gentleman who had expressed a desire to run against us.  I got out a telephone book and we looked up the potential opponent’s street address on Marland Heights; located it on the map; and drew a dog leg with the magic marker which put the man in the 2nd District.    Protecting your territory is an instinct that is the most primal and dogs aren’t the only ones who do it!

……But, times change and it’s time for single districts.   Don’t think, however, that delegates won’t be jockeying for boundaries which will be to their advantage in their re-election.   While the Kings Creek Bridge has always been the great divide in Hancock County and where you would think the line would be, I don’t think that will be the case especially if they stick to the 18,000 residents’ requirement.   This time around we don’t have a 1st District Delegate on the Redistricting Committee.   Del. Shawn Fluharty of Wheeling is the nearest we come to a representative on that committee.

…….What’s the upside of a single member district.   Proponents say the Delegate is more responsive and more attuned to the problems of his/her District.   There’s also no duplication of effort when two or five delegates are working on the same issue.  Competition as to who gets to announce the latest grant or award is also non-existent.  On the downside, there is often power in numbers and two or five voices in agreement on an issue are often more effective.

…..There are two ways to make the redistricting official.   It can be done by the voters with a Constitutional Amendment.  That would require a 2/3 majority in legislative passage and would be placed on the ballot at the next scheduled election.    The ballot language would simply ask for approval for single member districts.  The other method is for the Legislature alone to vote to change the Statute.  That’s the method used in the past.  That language would be specific in listing the individual districts in the Code.   I look for the Statute to be changed.

……Did you know that the Legislature didn’t always have 100 members in the House of Delegates and 34 State Senators?  West Virginia started out with 65 members of the House of Delegates and 29 Senators.  In 1953 that number was increased to the current level.

…..While I think we are all anxiously awaiting celebrating on the 4th of July, I must tell you my favorite holiday is June 29.  On that day in 1967 I gave birth to Doug and three years later to the day in 1970 I gave birth to Shannon.  As a 19-year-old first-time mother, I was scared and quite frankly, in awe of these two human beings I was responsible for nurturing, raising and sending out into the world.    Despite my limited knowledge  of all thing maternal two remarkable children set forth on their own path.  While last year this week we were all together as we celebrated Abbi and Brad’s wedding on June 27 and  Shannon and Doug’s birthday on June 29, this year we are able to be together in spirit only.