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Mason moved in amended US House plan for W.Va.

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The Senate Redistricting Task Force discarded plans Thursday to put Republican incumbents Shelley Moore Capito and David McKinley into the same congressional district.

The group also abandoned plans to allow congressional lines to divide Kanawha County in half.

Instead, after weeks of talk and wrangling, the 17-member committee voted to go for the easiest plan: move Mason County from Capito's more populous district into Democratic Rep. Nick Rahall's less populous district. McKinley's district would remain as-is.

The full Senate still has to approve the plan, something that could happen as soon as today, though it's possible some senators may attempt to amend it.

If the plan goes unchanged, it's expected that the House will adopt the Senate's plan and that acting Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin will sign it into law.

The committee's unanimous voice vote was a rebuke of a plan introduced by Senate Majority Leader John Unger, D-Berkeley. The plan Unger unveiled Wednesday could have made Capito and McKinley run against each other.

Sen. Clark Barnes, R-Randolph, introduced the amendment, meaning a Republican's suggestion prevailed over a plan advanced by the No. 2 Democrat in the Senate.

"It was a plan that there was general consensus among the membership to not displace our constituents who are quite pleased with their current representation," Barnes said.

Unger said his plan was only a template. He also said the so-called Mason County Flip plan is likely to be challenged in court because it's not as geographically compact or equal in population as the "Perfect Map" he had drawn up and put before the committee earlier this week.

Unger said he wasn't behind a lawsuit, but, he said, "I imagine there are some others that would do that."

Earlier this week, he suggested media use his map to hold lawmakers' feet to the fire about any changes. He suggested any changes should be viewed as political maneuvers that violate requirements that districts be equal in size.

Courts generally require congressional districts to have an equal number of people in them, but it's not clear by how much districts may deviate from each other. Unger's map had 617,665 people each in McKinley's 1st and Capito's 2nd district and 617,664 people in Rahall's 3rd. The plan also would have eliminated the long, slender belt of Capito's district and created three districts with roughly equal miles in them.

Under the plan the Senate committee approved, there would be 615,991 people in the 1st, 620,862 people in the 2nd and 616,141 in the 3rd.

"So, basically we're moving further away from what would be constitutionally ideal," Unger said.

But Unger's plan, for the first time in state history, would have torn apart Kanawha and Harrison counties and stuffed them into separate districts. Barnes' plan kept all the counties whole.

Unger also took time to object to characterizations of his plan by the media. He said the plan wasn't his but a mere template for proceeding, although he introduced it and said this week he would vote for it.

He also objected to suggestions that he was forcing Capito and McKinley to run against each other.

Members of Congress do not have to live in the district that they serve. Even if McKinley and Capito found themselves living in the same district, they could still opt to run in different districts, he said.

Doing so, however, could prompt accusations of carpet bagging. Such an arrangement would also defeat part of the purpose of Unger's plan, which was to get the Eastern Panhandle a representative more attuned to the needs of the area. McKinley, who represents counties in the area, lives in Wheeling, and Capito, who represents most of the panhandle, lives in Charleston.

Republicans praised the Senate committee's decision.

"The Senate acted to silence the partisan intentions of a few and gave voice to the majority of West Virginians by passing a plan that can meet legal scrutiny while preserving the current congressional districts by county lines," said Kent Gates, a political advisor to Capito.

The Senate also defeated a plan introduced by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, a group devoted solely to electing Democrats to the U.S. House. The plan would generally have made the 2nd more Republican -- a concession to Capito's dominance -- but would have given a Democrat a better shot at unseating McKinley.

One of those Democrats, Mike Oliverio, McKinley's opponent in 2010, was in the room watching.


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