Virginia Democrats on Tuesday charged that Senate Republicans played racial politics a day earlier when the GOP redrew senators' district boundaries and pushed the new map through the Senate on a party-line vote before Democrats could stop it.
Democrats took to the Senate floor to deride Republicans for hastily taking the vote while one Democrat, Sen. Henry Marsh of Richmond, was absent to attend President Obama's inauguration. With Marsh gone, the plan passed 20-19 on a party-line vote.
Sen. Don McEachin, D-Henrico, a member of the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus, called the move "plantation politics" and accused Republicans of packing black voters into Democratic districts.
The Republican redistricting plan would create another black-majority Senate district, but in doing so it would make several other existing districts much more winnable for Republicans. One Democrat, Sen. Creigh Deeds of Bath County, would be lumped into a district with Sen. Emmett Hanger, a Republican.
"It was done under the guise of being good to black folks," McEachin said of the GOP plan, which is awaiting action from the House.
Redistricting typically takes place once every 10 years after census results are tallied, and Virginia last went through that process in 2011 when Democrats controlled the Senate. The Republican plan would scramble virtually the entire redistricting plan the state already approved.
Senate Majority Leader Tommy Norment, R-Williamsburg, admitted the maneuver was politically motivated but was visibly angered by the accusations of racism. He also blasted Democratic leader Sen. Dick Saslaw of Fairfax for vowing to block transportation funding unless the plan is withdrawn.
"I understand yesterday was not one of the finest days in the Senate," Norment said. "[But] to hear vitriolic comments like 'There's going to be no transportation plan, there's going to be no education plan,' those are policy issues that [Democrats would allow to be] impacted by a political consequence."
Caught in the middle of the spat is Republican Gov. Bob McDonnell, who needs Democratic support in the Senate to pass a massive transportation funding package he hopes will be his signature legislative achievement.
"I want to do everything possible to get significant reforms in [transportation and education] because this is what's necessary for the future of Virginia," McDonnell said Tuesday. "And I would prefer nothing else get in the way."
Leaders on both sides warned the chasm between the two parties may be widening, and that was punctuated Tuesday, the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court decision that affirmed abortion was constitutionally protected. Sen. Dick Black, R-Leesburg, inflamed Democrats by likening abortion clinics to Nazi concentration camps.
Remarked Saslaw: "I have never heard more outrageous comments on personal privilege than someone comparing Roe v. Wade to the Holocaust in Germany."