CHARLESTON, WV (LOOTPRESS) – Much political talk during the past decade has centered around the growing influence of West Virginia’s Eastern Panhandle.
Population growth spurred by the area becoming more and more a Washington, D.C. suburb has given the panhandle greater influence in statewide political races.
In the state’s current Second Congressional District, Republicans have dominated because of the panhandle growth. GOP Congressman Alex Mooney, for example, has had his seat won with panhandle votes even before Kanawha County reports its complete returns.
Mooney resides in the panhandle while Kanawha is the largest county voting bloc in the state.
Perhaps the emergence of power in the Eastern Panhandle is no more apparent than in this week’s announcement of a legislative redistricting committee for 2022.
Named to head the select committee is Chair Charles Trump, a Republican state senator from Morgan County. The vice chair is Republican Delegate Gary Howell of Mineral County. Clearly, both represent the panhandle.
The committee will be charged with recommending new congressional and legislative districts to comply with the 2020 federal census.
With Republicans holding super majorities in both legislative houses, the committee reflects that breakdown on a percentage basis. Each congressional district is equally represented, leaders say.
One major issue likely to surface is the state’s overall population loss, causing the House of Representatives delegation to be cut from three to two.
But legislative redistricting will be a hot point as well. Republicans will want to drew districts that favor them retaining power. Complicating that may be an earlier legislative requirement that there must be no more multiple-member House of Delegates districts. Thus, all multiple-members must be broken down.
Other senate members are Dave Sypolt (R-Preston), Mike Caputo (D-Marion), Glenn Jeffries (D-Purnam), Rupie Phillips (R-Logan). Chandler Swope (R-Mercer), Eric Tarr (R-Putnam), Ryan Weld (R-Brooke) and Mike Woelfel (D-Cabell).
Beside Howell, representing the house are Amy Summers (R-Taylor), Bill Anderson (R-Wood), Brent Boggs (D-Braxton), Nathan Brown (D-Mingo), Moore Capito (R-Kanawha), Paul Espinosa (R-Jefferson), Shawn Fluharty (D-Ohio), Geoff Foster (R-Putnam), Marty Gearheart (R-Mercer), Sean Hornbuckle (D-Cabell), Eric Householder (R-Berkeley), David Kelly (R-Tyler), Kayla Kessinger (R-Fayette), Daniel Linville (R-Cabell), Zach Maynard (R-Lincoln), Jeff Pack (R-Raleigh), Matt Rohrbach (R-Cabell), Ruth Rowan (R-Hampshire), Doug Skaff (D-Kanawha), Joe Statler
(R-Monongalia), Erikka Storch (R-Ohio), Steve Westfal (R-Jackson)l and John Williams (D-Monongalia).
As far as congressional redistricting is concerned, the state’s three sitting House of Representatives members are Republicans.
Unless one chooses to retire or run for some other office in 2022, any redistricting plan would likely pit two against each other. Plans with little chance of passing have already been suggested that would put all three in the same district.
Any congressional district that includes all three house representatives would almost surely be a result of gerrymandering. First District Congressman David McKinley is from the Northern Panhandle; Second District Congressman Alex Mooney resides in the Eastern Panhandle and Third District Representative Carol Miller lives in Huntington.
Thus, geographically, Miller will likely have no incumbent opponent in her district but Mooney and McKinley are likely to be in the same district.
Although the state does not have final population figures from the census, preliminary reports have been enough to get the ball rolling.
Several legislators have said they expect a special session in the fall to redistrict since the 2022 filing period is in January.
The Joint Committee on Redistricting will be traveling through the state this summer, hosting public meetings and gathering comments, according to Trump.
In the meantime, those filing pre-candidacy papers with the Secretary of State are generically listing “House of Delegates” or “State Senate” as the office they’re interested in since numbers and boundaries of new districts are not yet known.