Ever wonder why West Virginia has 100 members in its House of Delegates?
Neighboring Virginia and Kentucky have 100 in their lower houses, but they have 4.5 and 2.5 times our population, respectively. Ohio, with only 99 lower house members, has 6.5 times our population.
Apparently, we either achieve better legislation or require closer watching.
Today, Republicans have a supermajority in our House of Delegates and state Senate, so they can do pretty much what they want. So, how about downsizing the Legislature and living up to the Republicans’ “smaller government” mantra?
Here are some thoughts:
Growth in our Legislature isn’t due to a population increase. In 1950, we had 2 million residents and, today, we have about 1.7 million. Proportionally, that would put us at 85 members, if the delegate count followed population trends.
But it doesn’t. West Virginia, with about 1,767,860 residents (2021 estimate), has 100 members from soon-to-be single-member districts averaging 17,689 per delegate spread over an average of 241 square miles each.
Compare that to our neighbors. Pennsylvania, with 12.8 million residents (2021 estimates) and 203 members of the lower house of its legislature organized into single-member districts. That means they serve about 62,976 residents per member, or 221 square miles per member. Ohio, with 11.7 million, has 99 single-member districts serving about 117,317 residents each, or 414 square miles per member.
Virginia, with 8.6 million in population, has 100 single-member districts serving about 84,118 people over 396 square miles. And Kentucky with 4.5 million souls has 100 single-member districts serving 44,370 each over 397 square miles.
So, West Virginia’s 100 delegates serve fewer residents per delegate (18,000 approximately vs. Ohio’s 118,182), as well as cover the smallest area (241 square miles vs. Ohio’s 414 average).
If we used the same member-to-population proportion as Pennsylvania, we’d have only 29 Delegates; Ohio’s proportion would give us 16; Virginia’s proportion would yield 22; and Kentucky’s same ratio would result in 41 members.
No reason that I know of.
This year’s budget shows a planned expenditure of $9,404,031 for our House. However, that’s not the only cost of a micro-legislature.
Our House of Delegates has more time to ponder unimportant stuff. They theorize that eliminating our state income tax will add 400,000 people to our population, when we haven’t added 400,000 in 70 years. “Yeah, but, this time, it’s gonna work,” they assume because someone said it would. My money says it won’t.
Virginia, meanwhile, created the first Virginia Redistricting Commission, passed criteria for drawing districts, as well as passing enabling legislation to direct how the commission will operate, who is eligible to serve, diversity requirements and rules by which the Virginia Supreme Court must abide, should it need to establish the districts, assuming the legislature does not agree with the commission.
Oh yes, 16 members of the commission were appointed and are already at work.
West Virginia, on the other hand, is awaiting census data before it acts. Initially required to be delivered by March 31, the pandemic, as well as the Trump administration’s census interference, means the results won’t be ready until Sept. 30 and could throw redistricting into chaos.
Just so you know, our Senate numbers aren’t any better off. We have 34 Senators representing 1,767,860 residents, or 52,941 residents on average per senator. Pennsylvania has 49 Senators representing an average of 261,224 residents. Virginia has 40, for an average of 215,000. For Ohio, it’s only 33 representing about 354,545 residents each, while Kentucky has 38 for about 118,421 residents each.
Perhaps, we should put the Republican smaller-government philosophy to work?
How about 25 Senators and 50 members of the House? And let a commission draw the lines. All Republicans should be able to support this.