Democrats Accuse GOP of Gerrymandering in Proposed West Virginia House of Delegates Map
CHARLESTON — With a possible legislative session being called next week for redrawing the lines for congressional and statehouse districts in West Virginia, some Democratic members of the House of Delegates are calling foul over how some of those lines were drawn.
The House Redistricting Committee released its draft proposal and map for new House of Delegates districts last week during its first organizational meeting at the State Capitol Building in Charleston.
The 100-member House is divided into 67 districts, with 11 two-member districts, six three-member districts, two four-member districts, and one five-member district.
A 2018 law requires all delegate districts going forward to be divided into 100 single-member districts. The proposed map draws those new districts, starting with the 1st District in Mercer County and the 100th District in Hancock County.
Speaking last week, House Redistricting Committee Chairman Gary Howell, R-Mineral, said there were probably 10 pairs of delegates who were likely within one district.
“We knew that probably would happen,” Howell said. “When we came up with this map, we said ‘don’t look at where anybody lives.’ Let’s not do that. You always have a general idea, but let’s not look at that specifically. Let’s draw them according to what the people have told us. And if it works out, we’re probably not going to put that many people together in the same district.”
In at least three instances, three pairs of Republicans will likely have to primary each other in order to stay in the House unless the lines change between now and a special session. Two pairs consisting of current Republican and Democratic House members were put into the same district. And four pairs of Democratic House members will likely have to primary each other if they choose to stay.
One of those people is Delegate Lisa Zukoff, D-Marshall. She shares the 4th District with Delegate Charlie Reynolds, R-Marshall. Zukoff said she would have no issue running against Reynolds in a new single-member district. The only problem is Reynolds was put into the new 95th District which includes Moundsville. Zukoff lives just outside Moundsville and was drawn into the new 94th District.
“The redistricting committee said they didn’t look where people lived. I find that very hard to believe since I live right outside of the district that they’ve given Charlie Reynolds,” Zukoff said.
The proposed 94th District includes most of Marshall County and the northern part of Wetzel County, where Delegate Dave Pethel, D-Wetzel, lives. Not only would Zukoff have to primary a long-serving Democratic colleague, but it puts parts of two counties together that normally stay separate.
“I think they did the folks in Wetzel County a huge disservice by breaking up their district into smaller pieces,” Zukoff said. “I didn’t run to run for public office. I ran to serve my community. This obviously changes that significantly for me. It’s an hour to get to Hundred. It’s 35 minutes to get to New Martinsville. That expands the work. If I work in a district and I want to be there sometimes. I don’t think that’s fair to folks either.”
On the opposite side of the state, Delegate John Doyle, D-Jefferson, has his own dilemma. Doyle represents the 67th District, a single-member district that includes Shepherdstown and Harpers Ferry. In the proposed House redistricting map, a new 78th District was created, which includes the corporate limits of Shepherdstown.
The problem is Doyle lives maybe a mile outside the Shepherdstown corporate limits. As a result, Doyle finds himself in the new 75th District with Delegate John Hardy, R-Berkeley.
Doyle isn’t so much concerned about his prospects for re-election. He is more concerned that small communities on the periphery of Shepherdstown that are used to being in the same district are now being split up.
“They’ve taken these subdivisions which everybody considers to be part of Shepherdstown and put half of them in one district and half of them in the other and a couple of them have been split. I think they didn’t have to do that,” Doyle said.
Another example Doyle points to is the new 76th and 77th districts that split Charles Town and Ranson into separate districts. Both communities are represented by Republican Wayne Clark in the current 65th District – two communities used to being in the same district.
In Randolph County, Democratic Delegate Cody Thompson and Republican Delegate Ty Nestor share the 43rd District, which includes Randolph and Pocahontas counties. The proposed House map splits Randolph County in half, with the western half of Randolph County and most of Pocahontas County into the new 52 District, while eastern Randolph County and western Pendleton County are the new 53 District.
The dividing line between the 52nd and 53 districts goes right through the middle of Elkins where both Thompson and Nestor live, with Nestor in the 52nd District and Thompson in the 53rd District.
“Thank you to the WV Republican Party for essentially drawing me out of my House District,” Thompson wrote last week on Twitter. “Gerrymandering much? Cutting the only openly elected gay man out, cutting the only current teacher in the House out. your message is loud and clear!”
Doyle pointed out that by cutting him out of the 78th District, planners in the House of Delegates might have been too clever. Doyle’s current district is one of the stronger Democratic districts in the state. By carving off some of the communities that were typically part of the same district with Shepherdstown, they might have put more Democratic Party voters in an otherwise Republican district.
“It turns Hardy’s district from a reddish purple district to a bluish purple one, because … the voters from Jefferson County you’ve put in are two-to-one Democratic and the same would be true if we made the change I am suggesting to keep those Shepherdstown close subdivisions together with the corporation.”
House Minority Leader Doug Skaff, D-Kanawha, was in the majority in 2011 when Democratic lawmakers controlled both the House and Senate and therefore controlled the redistricting process. Skaff represents the 35th district, one of two four-member districts with two Republican and two Democratic lawmakers. In the new House redistricting proposal, Republican Delegates Moore Capito and Larry Pack were drawn into their own districts. The two Democrats – Skaff and Kayla Young – were drawn into the new 35th District.
Young confirmed on Twitter that she would move out of the district in order to not have a primary between her and Skaff. However, Skaff believes that the wishes and requests of Democratic House members were not considered when preparing the draft map.
“We understand that the majority are the ones that are designing the map and they’re the ones that control this process,” Skaff said. “We were given an opportunity to submit ideas and suggestions and our ideas and suggestions were drawn around one premise: keeping local communities and towns and commonalities together. That was our number one focus. And it seems like none of those were taken into serious consideration because what we got was the complete opposite.”
Skaff pointed out that in the updated 35th District, parts of South Charleston and Dunbar are cut off from each other. Skaff is still hoping that Republican leaders of the House Redistricting Committee will allow more input into the drawing of boundaries, but time is running out.
“You’re just given less than a week now to make changes that are going to last for the next 10 years without proper input from the public,” Skaff said. “It’s just disheartening that you have some valued members of the community and leaders who have been mayors, city council members, and have been leaders in this state for a long time, and they’re not going to get a chance to have their voice heard. They’re going to be given a new map that may not keep our communities together.”