Sign In | Create an Account | Welcome, . My Account | Logout | Subscribe | Submit News | Contact Us | Home RSS

Kessler May Be in Driver’s Seat

January 14, 2012
By MIKE MYER , The Intelligencer / Wheeling News-Register

Three normally reliable, highly-placed sources tell me the outcome of a congressional redistricting battle in West Virginia is in one man's hands: state Senate President Jeff Kessler. That puts an enormous amount of pressure on the local legislator.

Earlier this month, two members of a three-judge federal court panel ruled a congressional redistricting plan adopted by the Legislature last year is unconstitutional. Under the plan, West Virginia's three districts are not close enough in populations, the judges say.

Never mind that the plan had the districts within about one-quarter of one percent of equal populations. The law is what judges say it is, after all.

But by demanding the redistricting plan be amended, the judges may well have enabled the very gerrymandering courts so often decry. Here's why:

Last spring and summer, legislators spent months discussing redistricting. Public meetings were held throughout the state. A website was set up so Mountain State residents could track the process. Ideas were solicited and considered.

In the end, lawmakers adopted a plan both Republicans and Democrats in the Legislature thought was fair. Most people seemed to agree.

Under that plan, the 1st Congressional District, home to Rep. David McKinley, was left essentially the same as it is now. Rep. Shelley Capito's 2nd District lost Mason County, which was transferred into Rep. Nick Rahall's 3rd District. Populations were nearly equal.

That plan was devised with careful monitoring by the press and public. There was lots of time for people to become aware of proposals they didn't like and to register opposition to them. And, for some reason, many legislators seemed to take a genuine, nonpartisan attitude.

This is different. Legislators have little time to submit a new plan to the judges. The public probably won't know what it is until it's too late to do anything about it.

And this time, politics is rearing its ugly head.

At one point it was suggested the map should be re-drawn to put McKinley and Capito, both Republicans, in the same district. That would have pleased the dickens out of Democrats who control the Legislature.

But it would have been such obvious gerrymandering that it appears the option received little consideration. Other plans being discussed would result in an upheaval for voters.

One idea is to cut the southwestern counties (Tyler, Pleasants, Wood, Ritchie, Doddridge and Gilmer) out of the 1st District and place them in the 2nd. Then, the 1st District would be extended to take in the Eastern Panhandle. Because southern West Virginia's population has declined, some counties would have to be added to the 3rd District. But clearly, the idea there was to take counties with records of voting Republican out of McKinley's district.

Never mind that it would link the Northern and Eastern Panhandles, which have just about nothing in common (in fairness, Berkeley and Jefferson counties don't have much in common with anywhere else in West Virginia).

I'm told members of the House of Delegates aren't doing much about redistricting. They plan to let the Senate craft a new plan, acceptable to the judges. I'm also told Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin is staying out of the mess, as much as possible.

That gives Kessler, D-Marshall, an enormous amount of power. Doubtless he's hearing from any number of influential people who want him to do what he can to hurt McKinley.

At the same time, Kessler must be pondering carefully what the folks back home - who sent him to Charleston - think. Their views on attempting to gerrymander out of office the man they sent to Washington, McKinley, may not agree with what Kessler hears in Charleston.

Myer can be reached via e-mail at

I am looking for: