New York Times reporter Trip Gabriel led with the race issue in a story of typical partisan politics in Virginia, in his (slightly outdated) report on a controversial redistricting vote the Virginia statehouse held on Monday: "Redistricting in Virginia Hurts Blacks, Democrats Say."
On Monday, one of Virginia’s state senators attended the inauguration: Henry L. Marsh III, a longtime civil rights lawyer, who played hooky to witness a milestone for an African-American president.
The same day, Republicans back in the state capital, Richmond, took advantage of his absence to win a party-line vote, 20 to 19, to redraw electoral maps in a way that Democrats say dilute African-Americans’ voting strength.
The move not only has Democrats howling about a power grab, it has also been criticized by Virginia’s Republican governor and lieutenant governor.
Redrawing districts to favor the party in power is hardly new in Virginia, or elsewhere. Democrats redrew the state map in 2011 when they held the majority in the Senate, although their efforts to achieve electoral gains were less than successful: they lost control of the chamber later that year.
Republican senators say the new map increases the number of Senate districts in Virginia with black majorities to six from five and is necessary to shield the state from lawsuits under federal civil rights law. But Democrats are furious that the map also dilutes the party’s power by removing blacks from as many as a dozen districts; and under the guise of bowing to the Voting Rights Act, they say, it would pack blacks in fewer districts over all.
“This was nothing more than what I call plantation politics,” said Senator Donald McEachin, the chairman of the Democratic caucus.
Gabriel soft-pedaled extremist comments from two Democrats, noting eupemistically that one of them "is known for not holding back."
Senator Richard L. Saslaw, the Democratic minority leader, used an expletive to describe Republican concerns for black voters. He said Republicans blocked efforts in 2011 to create a new Congressional district with a high percentage of blacks.
Mr. Saslaw, who is known for not holding back, said that on the Senate floor he compared the Republican move to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Both Republicans and Democrats, he said, have traditionally agreed to map districts in the back room to protect incumbents.
Gabriel is more sensitive to Republican attacks on Democrats. Writing with Ashley Parker, he rushed to Obama's side when Mitt Romney dared suggest Obama had made the economy worse.