WHEELING - State senators on Monday received a proposed congressional map that combines the Northern and Eastern panhandles into a new 1st Congressional District.
Local lawmakers gave Sen. John Unger's plan positive reviews, saying it could be the starting point for a new congressional map.
Senate Bill 199, introduced by Unger, D-Berkeley, groups the Northern Panhandle, part of North Central West Virginia and the Eastern Panhandle into a new 1st Congressional District. The Mid-Ohio Valley would join with Kanawha, Putnam and Harrison counties in the 2nd District while the 3rd District would include Cabell County and much of the state's coalfield region.
A second map being discussed - proposed by Sen. Herb Snyder, D-Jefferson - would combine the Northern Panhandle with areas stretching south to Kanawha County, and it is expected to be introduced today.
"Out of all of them, I like Unger's map," said Sen. Larry Edgell, D-Wetzel, a member of the Senate Redistricting Committee. "There is another plan that combines the Northern Panhandle and Kanawha County, but no one has talked to me about it. ... None of the districts want to be aligned with Kanawha County. ... (The Unger map) seems to be a map we can all live with."
Unger's map would keep the state's congressional delegation in their current districts: David McKinley, a Republican from Wheeling, in the 1st; Shelley Capito, a Republican from Charleston, in the 2nd; and Rep. Nick Rahall, a Democrat from Beckley, in the 3rd.
The state is awaiting a ruling from the U.S. Supreme Court that could allow the 2012 congressional election to proceed using the redistricting map already approved by state lawmakers in August. That map made little change to existing congressional district lines, other than to move Mason County from the 2nd to the 3rd Congressional District.
Sen. Orphy Klempa, D-Ohio, said he is looking for a map that gives the Northern Panhandle the best chance of electing a congressman from its communities.
"The Unger map has the best chance of getting my support if amended, but it needs to be changed so the balance of power isn't in the Eastern Panhandle or in North Central West Virginia. We need more (Ohio) riverfront communities in the district," he said.
Delegate Erikka Storch, R-Ohio, said while it seems likely the two panhandles will be combined in the same district, they do have different concerns.
The new plan is necessary after a three-judge panel on Jan. 3 ruled the state's initial redistricting plan unconstitutional. Those federal judges - John Preston Bailey, Irene C. Berger and Robert B. King - ruled 2-1 against the initial plan, with Bailey in the minority.
The panel said the state's initial redistricting plan did not provide equal representation in Congress for each of the three districts.
Berger was nominated by President Barack Obama and King by President Bill Clinton. President George W. Bush nominated Bailey.
In the initial redistricting plan, King and Berger found the variation in population between the three districts of 0.79 percent to be too large a difference. The ideal number of people to be in each of West Virginia's three congressional districts is 617,665.
Under the initial map, there would be 615,991 residents in the 1st District; 620,862 in the 2nd District; and 616,141 in the 3rd District.
Unger calls his new plan "the perfect map" that has a variation of zero. It places exactly 617,665 people in both the 1st and 2nd districts, and one less - 617,664 - in the 3rd District.
"Sen. Unger's map, with some tweaking, might be more palatable than others - but I'm not totally sold," said Senate President Jeff Kessler, D-Marshall.
Kessler did note that the local area also doesn't want to be in a district with Kanawha County. "We've fought that battle for supremacy before when we fought over who would be the state capital. There are no community ties between the two valleys."
Unger points out, however, there are ties between the Northern and Eastern panhandles. Both regions have racetracks and gambling, and they also compete with neighboring states for business.
He said lawmakers must move quickly if candidates for Congress are to file before the Jan. 28 deadline. The latest lawmakers could extend the deadline is Feb. 3 for candidates to still make the May 8 primary ballot - otherwise a special primary election for Congress later in the year could be warranted.
"We can still make it," Unger said. "All we have to do is extend the filing opportunity for congressional races and still meet the deadline. ... Time is running out. That's why waiting for the appeal is not a good strategy."