CHARLESTON, W.Va. - Calls for 100 single-seat districts in West Virginia's House of Delegates proved a recurring theme Wednesday at a Kanawha County public hearing on the emerging redistricting process.
Most of the evening's 16 speakers told the state Senate redistricting task force they wanted single-member districts in the other chamber.
They said multi-member districts, especially the seven-member 30th district in Kanawha County, which is made up mostly of people who live near each other in Charleston and no one from eastern Kanawha County, defeats the point of having local representation.
One, Tom Crouser of Mink Shoals, said he recognized that the Senate will focus primarily on its own districts. But he noted that the entire Legislature must approve any final plan.
"If you receive a bill from the House that has multiple delegate districts, you need to suck it up and send it back and say, with a note that says 'Don't do dumb stuff, because we we're not going to pass it," Crouser said to applause.
But Chesapeake Mayor Damron Bradshaw said that single-member districts may reduce a community's clout. He cited how seven delegates represent the 30th House district, which includes his rural area along with much of the state's most populous city, Charleston.
"That's the only way the upper Kanawha Valley is going to have any representation in the House of Delegates," Bradshaw said.
The 2010 Census revealed population shifts that now require changes to the state's legislative and congressional districts. The Eastern Panhandle saw marked growth, while declines in the southern coalfields continued and the Northern Panhandle lost population as well.
The reapportionment that followed the previous Census distributed House seats among 58 districts. Nearly two-thirds, or 36 districts, are single-member. Another 11 hold just two seats each. Of the remaining 11 multi-delegate districts, the largest is the 30th.
The Senate's 34 members are paired in 17 districts. Four senators now represent Kanawha County through two overlapping districts.
Kanawha County Commission President Kent Carper said the county would end up sharing one of those districts with one or more neighboring counties. Carper wants Kanawha to share a senator with the area currently represented by Senate Minority Leader Mike Hall, R-Putnam.
Hall said after the meeting he was "intrigued" about different discussions, but that he needs to talk with officials in his district.
"I don't have any settled position or any settled plan," Hall said. "We'll just have to see what is good for the public and what the public thinks would be the best alignments to serve them."
South Charleston lawyer Thornton Cooper has attended each of the forums so far. He urged them to redraw the 2nd U.S. House District, which covers 18 counties and stretches across the state from the Ohio and Potomac Rivers. It includes Charleston.