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Greta Harris, co-chair of the Virginia Redistricting Commission, walks out following partisan squabbling

People sit in front of microphones
Crixell Matthews
Greta Harris (left) walked out of the Virginia Redistricting Commission she chaired following a Friday meeting. (Photo: Crixell Matthews/VPM News)

Greta Harris, Democratic co-chair of the Virginia Redistricting Commission, removed herself from her position today after hours of arguments and party-line votes.

“At this point, I don’t see the need for us to continue,” Harris said. “We gave it a shot as a commission, we tried to come together. It’s a very complicated process, lots of different competing criteria, but I would almost say that we are done.”

In one of the final meetings of the commission before new state Senate and House of Delegates maps are due to the General Assembly, members had yet to settle on one or two maps to use, even as a starting point. Conversations languished in stalemate from morning until early afternoon.

Disagreements over constitutionality, racial data and which maps to use - which have dogged the commission for weeks - devolved into Democrats and Republicans trading barbs and voting down each others’ proposals, with each side claiming to prioritize compromise.

Following one exchange where proposals from both parties were shot down on party lines, Harris said she was ready to call it quits.

“I think what voters wanted at the very beginning of this process was this to not be a partisan situation, but it is,” Harris said.

Senator Bill Stanley (R-Franklin) tried to raise spirits, citing his years of working through difficult compromises in state government: “We can do the same thing here on the commission. Don’t give up.”

Democratic citizen Sean Kumar took issue with Stanley’s statement.

“All the Democrats on this body voted to try to start with one map for each side as a starting point, and we saw a party-line, Republicans in order, not vote for any willingness to do that,” Kumar said.

Harris urged that future iterations of the commission be organized differently, so as to avoid further partisan stalemates.

“If I had any recommendations for the next go around, for the next, the 2030 census: that we not have elected officials on a commission to do this work,” Harris said. She also recommended an odd number of independents to break ties and a required history course for all commissioners “to fully understand the racial background of this state.”

Harris removed herself from the commission and walked out with two other citizen members: Kumar and James Abrenio, another Democrat.

If the commission fails to come up with maps, the General Assembly can give them two weeks to try to straighten things out. Following that, the responsibility goes to the Supreme Court of Virginia. Abrenio said he’s concerned that Republicans on the commission wanted the Courts to draw maps from the start.

“Because there’s a feeling that there is a political conservative slant by our justices,” Abrenio said.

It’s not immediately clear if new citizen members will fill the empty places, if there’s enough time for that to happen or even if the three members officially resigned. The commission may still be able to convene for a meeting scheduled tomorrow if all remaining citizen members show up in person.

But with only five citizens left on the commission, it would be impossible to send any maps to the General Assembly - approval is needed from six citizens and six legislators. If the commission is unable to establish that the missing members actually resigned, there’s no clear method for them to be removed to make way for new commissioners.

Patrick Larsen is VPM News' environment and energy reporter, and fill-in host.