BECKLEY, W.V. (LOOTPRESS) – Tuesday night, residents and community leaders in Raleigh County and the surrounding area had the opportunity to share their concerns with West Virginia’s upcoming Congressional and Legislative boundary lines redistricting.
Senators and Delegates on the West Virginia Legislature Joint Committee on Redistricting met in Tamarack’s Gov. Hulett C. Smith Theater for the hearing. This committee has been tasked with drawing these new political boundaries for Congressional, State Senate, and House of Delegate Districts.
This is one of 12 meetings across the state that the committee plans to hold.
Redistricting must be accomplished every 10 years to indicate population changes to ensure equal representation in the state. The last redistricting followed the 2010 census.
In a typical census year, data is collected based on the residence of the population on April 1. Because of delays related to the COVID-19 pandemic throughout 2020, current population counts will not be received by the state until September 30, 2021. For this reason, committee members were not able to propose any new maps or answer any questions during the hearing.
On Tuesday, Committee Chairman Sen. Charles Trump, Sen. Rupie Phillips, Sen. Glenn Jeffries, Sen. Eric Tarr, Sen. Ryan Weld, Sen. Mike Woelfel, Del. Kayla Kessinger, Del. Brandon Steele, Del. Marty Gearheart and Del. Eric Householder were present and represented the committee. Other legislators were also present.
As representatives of District 9, Raleigh and Wyoming County, Sen. Rollan Roberts and Sen. David Stover co-hosted the hearing.
Both senators welcomed participants to the county, highlighting what would be accomplished in the meeting.
“They’ll take a good hard look at this,” Stover said of the committee. “They know how important it is to try and keep as close as possible to the concept that if you’re in a county or an area where you live that you will actually know the person that represents you.”
As residents lined up to speak, Del. Kessinger shared the value of hearing the community’s comments as the committee makes its decision.
“We felt it was important to start holding public hearings so that you, the citizens of West Virginia, will have a full opportunity to make whatever comments you wish to make and share with us your views, thoughts and ideas.”
Several residents chose to speak Tuesday night, including President of the Raleigh County Commission Dave Tolliver, who asked the committee to make wise and conscious decisions as they draw new maps.
“As you probably know, the last time there was a redistricting, Raleigh County was chopped up like sauerkraut. We had 11 or 12 delegates representing all or part of Raleigh County, and it doesn’t make sense.”
Tolliver informed the committee that Raleigh County had to spend $450,000 after the last redistricting to purchase new voting machines due to the number of delegates.
“Think about the county and the county commission,” he implored. “If you chop us up again, who knows how much money we will have to spend.”
Following the meeting Del. Steele, R-Raleigh 29, who was recently appointed to the committee, expressed his excitement to be involved in the redistricting.
“This is my first opportunity to be part of something to do with redistricting…I’ve been in the House- this is my second term, and it’s hard for me to imagine my district looking different, but it’s going to.”
Like Kessinger, Steele noted that community participation is extremely important as it gives the committee an idea on how to better serve the people of West Virginia throughout what he referred to as one of the most litigated issues in American history.
“To potentially hear from people you don’t currently represent and then hear from people you do represent that you might not in the future, that is something that weighs on you,” he said. “There are people that are concerned about how, specifically Raleigh County, was drawn back then. A lot of the comments that I have heard from people, regardless of where they are in the state, was a concern about keeping their county whole.”
Steele shared that there are many factors the committee will consider when making its decision. One consideration Steele says the committee will be taking is making sure they are being fair in their mapping while also being partisan.
“It’s very carefully done, and that is why we are going throughout the state giving everyone an opportunity to weigh in on it,” he shared.
The goal, he said, is to make West Virginia a desirable place to live, drawing in more people in the process.
Steele highlighted the fact that West Virginia recently lost a congressional seat because it did not gain population at the same rate as the rest of the country.
“We had five congressmen 50 years ago, and now we are down to two. It’s going to be very hurtful to go down to two, so it’s really important that we go forward and put policies in place that attract people to the state and make them want to stay here and grow that significant amount of influence that we lost in the House of Representatives.”
As the committee waits for the current census data, it is encouraging West Virginians to submit their own ideas on redistricting. Ideas or proposed mapping can be sent to email@example.com.
The new districts will be in place for representatives who are elected in the 2022 General Election.