The Virginia General Assembly will convene for its annual session at noon today. The opening session will no doubt note that a form of representative government first met at the church at Jamestown 400 years ago. I am honored to have served nearly 10 percent of the span of existence of the Assembly.
The events of 400 years ago are being observed through a coordinating body, American Evolution, that in its publicity states that “1619 was a pivotal year in the establishment of the first permanent English colony in North America. It was the year of the first representative legislative assembly in the New World, the arrival of the first recorded Africans to English North America, the recruitment of English women in significant numbers, the first official English Thanksgiving in North America, and the development of the Virginia colony’s entrepreneurial and innovative spirit.”
I encourage constituents to participate in the events of the year for I believe they form an excellent starting point for an understanding of where Virginia is today and most importantly where Virginia is headed.
Some historians and public relations experts would proclaim what happened in Virginia in 1619 as the birth of democracy in America. Certainly, it was a small step, but that was 400 years ago. It is time to take another step in our evolution to a more democratic phase in our government. Namely, it is time for the people of Virginia to pick their legislative representatives rather than their representatives picking them. I am referring to the process of redistricting legislative boundaries after the federal census that is often referred to as “gerrymandering.”
In 1982 I introduced what I believe to be the first bill in Virginia to create a nonpartisan and independent legislative redistricting commission. The Democrats who overwhelmingly controlled the General Assembly at the time dismissed the idea for they were firmly in control. When the Republicans took the majority in the General Assembly years later, they also rejected my proposal because they were now in control.
I am pleased with the growth of awareness on the part of the public that the current partisan-controlled system of dividing up the population into legislative districts serves the legislators’ interests instead of their constituents and the issues important to them.
The General Assembly must act in this session to get a constitutional amendment on the ballot in time for a commission to be organized to do redistricting after the 2020 census. Thanks to all associated with OneVirginia 2021 for the advocacy they are doing to bring about this evolution of democracy in the Commonwealth.
Plan to visit the General Assembly during this session that runs five days a week through Feb. 22. All committee meetings are open to the public. Legislator offices are just across Bank Street from the Capitol, and I am always pleased to see constituents. Let’s make sure that when the history of the 2019 session is written that a major step in representative government will have taken place.