Here are two more things the West Virginia Legislature should do, and one it shouldn’t, to prepare for redistricting next year. Firstly, modify the number of delegates so they may wholly nest within a single Senate district. Then, raise legislative pay. And then, don’t adopt term limits. We need more institutional memory, not less.
Here’s the skinny.
I wrote about nesting two years ago, but here are the salient points since I assume you don’t have that column handy.
No matter how you cypher it, 34 doesn’t divide into 100 evenly. So, we’ll always remain a hodgepodge of district lines where neighbors can have the same delegate but different senators. Confusing.
Two years ago, I suggested reducing members by one in each chamber leaving 33 Senators and 99 delegates. Then we could have three whole delegate districts in each senate district.
Well, that wasn’t popular, since someone would lose their seat.
OK, let’s do the opposite. Increase the House membership by two to 102 again, equaling three delegates per senator or six single-member delegate districts nested into each senate district.
Seventeen states already do this: Alaska, Arizona, California, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Maryland, Minnesota, Montana, New Jersey, North Dakota, Ohio, Oregon, South Dakota, Utah, Washington and Wisconsin.
And if legislators want an easier and better way to do this, they need only adopt a commission approach to drawing boundaries.
That’s because redistricting is one of the most divisive issues they face. And it’s not a Republican-Democrat thing; rather, it is an every-delegate-for-themselves thing. Everyone suspects the guy next door of stealing voters, regardless of party. Many hard feelings are created along the way, and these are the folks we expect to cooperate to solve our state’s problems.
Now, according to my count, only 20 of the 100 members of the House were serving during the last redistricting, in 2011. Two others were serving in the Senate. Of these, a number aren’t running for reelection to the House. Therefore, there will be fewer next year, for sure.
So, fair warning: Legislators should adopt a commission plan to reduce conflicts and provide for more expertise in this technical subject, as appointed commissioners are more likely to be around during the next redistricting.
In other words, do it like legislative pay is handled now.
Speaking of which, our legislators deserve a pay raise.
Currently, both delegates and senators are paid $20,000 per year and receive $131 for daily expenses (legislators who commute daily receive $55). These rates are set by a compensation commission that reviews salaries and per diem at least every five years. The Legislature, then, either votes their recommendation up or down.
However, last time it was due for consideration, Republicans had just gained control of the Legislature, and the last thing they wanted to do was give everyone a pay raise as an opening act.
So, it was ignored.
It’s coming up again this year, and it’s been 10 years since the last adjustment.
Inflation, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics between 2010 and the end of 2019, is 19 percent, meaning legislative pay should be $23,800 today to stay even with $20,000 in 2010.
Yes, I know. Everyone needs a raise. Yes, I know this is a flat budget year.
However, only 18 states pay legislators less: Georgia, Idaho, Maine, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Carolina, North Dakota, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virginia and Wyoming.
So, come up with a number and adopt it.
Then, finally, don’t adopt term limits. We don’t need them. As I said, only 20 delegates were around in 2011, the last time we did redistricting. In the case of the House, at least, we need more institutional memory, rather than less.
So, nest delegate districts within senate districts. Raise legislative pay. And then avoid term limits, to provide more long-term memory.
Finally, don’t misplace this column this time. I hate repetition.