The Norfolk City Council’s vote to elect our school boards by wards prompted my “Wrong on school wards” piece, which appeared Thursday, 1/29. I really wasn’t surprised the majority voted for wards – after all, when was the last time council listened to the people? If they had had their way, there wouldn’t have even been public hearings. Instead, they would have just gone with the August internal memo that said they should do wards. This issue, though, has opened the eyes of people all over the city, particularly those who always gave council the benefit of the doubt. Next year’s council elections – mayor and the two superwards will be on the ballot – are going to be quite interesting. At least three names are floating around as challengers to the mayor, and a couple of names for each of the superward incumbents.
Further, people are starting to connect the dots between council votes and the way the wards are drawn. Council had a chance to draw the ward boundaries differently in 2011, but chose to maintain essentially the same lines we’ve had since the ward system was implemented. Things have changed in the intervening years, but not in the minds of the two Pauls – Fraim and Riddick – who have served on council at least since the city first elected its council by wards. (Fraim was on council before, Riddick was elected in the first ward election.) If the ward boundaries were drawn as proposed in 2011, the overriding issue of race would have been lessened in this fight. But they weren’t – so here we are, maintaining the status quo in a system that disenfranchises every single voter in Norfolk. As I’ve said before: we don’t get to vote for a majority of the council members. Our system only allows us to vote for three members, while it takes five votes to get anything done. Adopting a ward system for school board gives us a vote for three of its members as well, but being able to count to four is necessary.
Council knows this – and that’s why they ignore us. Until the voters hold them responsible. Let’s see if that happens in May 2016.
The issue of redistricting is one that I’ve written about for years, as I think it may very well be the the main reason for so much discord in our politics. Doing away with partisan redistricting is one issue on which my Congressman, Scott Rigell, and I agree. But a Supreme Court case may render it moot. That was the topic of my op-ed yesterday, “Making Virginia elections competitive.” I got wind of the Arizona case on – where else? – Twitter last week. One of the issues here is whether independent commissions have the authority to draw congressional district lines. If SCOTUS rules that they do not – and that the power lies solely within the purview of the state legislature – efforts to reform redistricting are doomed. And, as I explain in the op-ed, this trickles all the way down to the efforts to redraw Norfolk’s ward boundaries.
Oral arguments are set for March 3. The amici curiae briefs filed so far make for interesting reading, especially the one from the Arizona congressional delegation. I’ll be watching this closely.
My column appears in The Virginian-Pilot every week, usually on Thursdays. You can see the columns as they are published here, or navigate to them from the PilotOnline.com homepage by clicking on Opinion and then choosing my name at the bottom of the dropdown list. You can also see the columns by liking my Facebook page. Although my column appears weekly, I am not and have never been an employee of The Virginian-Pilot nor am I paid for my contributions to the paper.Follow @vpaige