A selection committee of five retired judges on Wednesday chose the eight citizens who will serve on the Virginia Redistricting Commission, completing the membership determination process for the newly-implemented body tasked with proposing plans for redrawing the Commonwealth’s 111 congressional and legislative districts.
The judges met for several hours on Wednesday morning and had to come up with the eight names from a pool of 62 finalists.
After more than 1,200 Virginians initially applied for a spot on the commission, the four legislative leaders of the General Assembly each submitted a list of at least 16 citizens to the committee last week, which resulted in those 62 finalists. As part of the selection process, the judges had to pick two citizens from each party leaders’ list.
“I think the judges did a thoughtful, deliberate and sincere effort to do right by this commission and I think the quality of the applicants and the quality of the final commissioners selected is outstanding,” Brian Cannon, executive director of Fair Maps VA, told The Virginia Star. “Their qualifications are outstanding, we are fortunate to have these folks volunteer their time to provide the service to Virginia and I think we’ll be better [off] for it.”
Overall, six men and two women were selected. Six out of the eight live in Virginia’s three main urban hubs: Northern Virginia (3), the Richmond-metro area (2) and Hampton-Roads (1). The other two represent the Southwest and Southside, according to the Virginia Division of Legislative Services (DLS)
The group is evenly split among party affiliation with four self-identifying as Republicans and the rest as Democrats, and, according to the Virginia Public Access Project, they have made $977,345 in political donations, but most of the majority of money is from just one person.
The eight citizens are:
From the list of Senate President pro tempore Louise Lucas (D-Portsmouth):
- James Abrenio, 37, of Fairfax, a personal injury and criminal defense attorney.
- Sean S. Kumar, 41, of Alexandria, a strategy and legal professional.
From the list of Senate Minority Leader Thomas Norment (R-James City):
- Marvin W. Gilliam, 64, of Bristol, former vice-president of a coal mining company.
- Richard O. Harrell III, 74, of South Boston, a trucking company executive.
From the list of House Minority Leader Todd Gilbert (R-Shenandoah):
- Mackenzie K. Babichenko, 36, of Mechanicsville, a prosecutor with the Hanover County Commonwealth’s Attorney office.
- Jose A. Feliciano, 52, of Fredericksburg, a veteran and agent with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).
From the list of House Speaker Eileen Filler-Corn (D-Fairfax):
- Brandon Christopher Hutchins, 39, of Virginia Beach, a veteran and healthcare worker.
- Greta J. Harris, 60, of Richmond, president and CEO of the Better Housing Coalition.
In a brief interview with The Star, Harris said she was pleasantly surprised by her selection because of the large applicant pool, and was happy to serve Virginia on the commission.
“I want to understand the ultimate objective of the commission. I know it’s about redrawing the lines, but what are our goals that we’re trying to achieve by these changes that we’ll be recommending,” Harris said. “I also want to know the shared principles that the commission will be working within around the fairness of the end product, and the lifting up of the value proposition that every citizen’s voice matters in being able to select their representation for state policy.”
The selected citizens will join eight current state lawmakers, who were previously named by the four legislative leaders, on the commission.
Approved by voters through a ballot referendum in the November elections, the newly-formed body charged with the responsibility to redefine Virginia’s many districts is replacing the old method, which was controlled by the legislature.
The commission’s goal is to propose plans for redrawing district lines to the General Assembly before the 2021 elections for House of Delegates, governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general by using updated population data from 2020 U.S. Census.
However, because of a delay in the data, it is not clear if the commission will be able to submit their plans in time for the new districts to be used in those races.
Now that the 16 members are finalized, the commission needs to appoint a chair from one of the eight citizens and hold its first public meeting before February 1st.
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