The West Virginia Legislature on Monday made quick work of advancing proposed redistricting maps during the first day of a special session.
The redistricting committees in the House of Delegates and Senate reported out bills containing legislative and congressional maps that could be in place in until 2032.
Neither committee meeting was without some debate.
The House rejected three proposed amendments to the map it eventually adopted after an analyst said one district line was changed to protect Delegate Caleb Hanna, R-Nicholas, from being in the same district as the headquarters of the National Alliance, a white supremacy organization based in Pocahontas County.
Hanna, the youngest member of the House, is one of four Black lawmakers in the 134-member Legislature.
On the Senate side, Sen. Mike Woelfel, D-Cabell, called the proposed district map “a push-through,” saying he anticipated significant amendments to the map on the floor.
Of particular interest to Woelfel was what he said was a rumored amendment that would cut Cabell County in half for the first time.
The House Redistricting Committee will host a public hearing at 8 a.m. Wednesday in the House chamber. Senate Redistricting Committee chairman Charles Trump, R-Morgan, did not announce that committee’s next meeting Monday.
This year is the first time in a century that Republicans have been the majority party in the Legislature during a redistricting cycle.
When he ran for office in 2018, Hanna said, a group of people threw bird seed into the yards of homes with his campaign signs. Attached to the seed packets was a note that said, “Don’t vote for these Third World savages,” he said.
On Monday, Hanna said he had a personal safety concern about being in the same district as the group. After talking to Delegate Brandon Steele, R-Raleigh, Hanna said he asked Steele to request the boundaries of what was going to his district be altered.
“It had been brought to my attention the National Alliance was there,” Hanna said. “It really didn’t sink in for a while. I talked to [Steele], and he was saying, ‘You know this is avoidable. We should make this avoidable,’ and I respect him for that and for caring for my safety.”
In the first draft of the House map, Hanna would have been in District 40, which included parts of Nicholas, Webster and southwestern Pocahontas counties. In the map adopted Monday, Hanna lives in proposed District 48, which dropped the Pocahontas County portion and added part of northern Greenbrier County.
House policy analyst Jeff Billings acknowledged during the meeting that it was Steele who requested the change and why.
After Monday’s meeting, Steele said he did not talk with anyone from the National Alliance. Steele said that, as far as he knows, the National Alliance in the area “keeps to itself, but there’s no reason to kick a bee’s nest.”
“Today, we have one African-American member of our [House Majority] caucus,” Steele said. “I think it would be inappropriate and irresponsible to put him in a situation where he’s possibly at-risk, and his community is more compact with Greenbrier County.”
House Bill 301, which establishes the House district map, will be on amendment stage Tuesday.
The Senate Redistricting Committee made fast work of adopting a congressional map and a Senate district map Monday afternoon, but it reconvened later in the evening to reconsider its work and make technical corrections.
Both the Senate and congressional bills will be on amendment stage Tuesday.
The congressional map, which splits West Virginia into northern and southern districts, groups Monongalia County with the Eastern Panhandle in one district, and the Cabell-Putnam-Kanawha metro area with Southern West Virginia in another.
During the committee’s 30-minute meeting Monday afternoon, most of the discussion centered on the Senate district map.
Woelfel said he expects maps senators on the panel have not yet seen will come to light when amendments are proposed on the floor Tuesday.
“Without claiming to be Nostradamus,” Woelfel told the committee he was aware of a map that has support from the majority of the Senate that, among other things, would divide Cabell County into northern and southern districts. The county has been intact in its Senate districts since it was established in 1809.
“Dividing up Cabell County ... is being done for one purpose, and that’s gerrymandering,” Woelfel said.
Woelfel asked committee members to examine their conscience when they vote on any proposed amendments.
“We have a duty, a sacred duty, that’s been given to us in our constitution,” Woelfel said. “We’ve taken an oath to that. I just ask each of you, before you put your ... final stamp of approval on that, take a look at it and make sure it goes along with the constitution and is consistent with the constitution.”
Sen. Mike Caputo, D-Marion, told the committee he didn’t like how the proposed map divides Marion and Monongalia counties, which historically have been in the same district.
He said the counties have a lot of common interests, sharing health care systems and “a number” of municipalities that fit together.
In the Senate-approved map, Monongalia is its own district, while Marion is in a district with Wetzel, Doddridge, Tyler and western Marshall County.
“I don’t see much in communities of interest there,” Caputo said.
Caputo was the lone ‘no’ vote on the proposed Senate and congressional maps.