By JARED HUNT
DAILY MAIL CAPITOL REPORTER
Supporters on both sides of the single- versus multi-member delegate district debate voiced their opinions during a lengthy, county-sponsored hearing on redistricting Wednesday evening.
Nearly 100 people gathered at the Kanawha County Courthouse to listen to views from members of both parties debate the merits of each side of the debate.
The forum was sponsored by the Kanawha County Commission and follows an event held by the state Senate in the county earlier this month.
While the House of Delegates has not scheduled a public forum on redistricting in the county, a majority of the Kanawha County House delegation attended the meeting.
The arguments from the public, which lasted over three hours, hit on some of the familiar themes that have been voiced before.
Advocates for turning the 3-member 31st District and 7-member 30th District into 10 single-member districts say that this would hold members more accountable and boost local representation.
Critics have long grumbled that the seven individuals representing all of southern Kanawha County all hail from the affluent residential areas of South Hills and South Charleston.
“What if, God forbid, Dow blows the big one and that plume of toxic gas diffuses in the southeastern direction?” said single-member advocate Jim Caruthers. “You wouldn’t have a government left in Kanawha County.”
But supporters say having multi-member districts boosts diversity among the elected officials, allowing them to specialize in certain areas in the Legislature.
“There’s a division of labor that’s happened in the 30th District that’s enabled them to give expert representation,” said Reverend Matthew Watts.
Chesapeake Mayor Damron Bradshaw said that single-member districts would discriminate against minorities and women, and also could benefit special interests seeking to get candidates they back into office, and get rid of those who oppose their interests.
“It’s easier for the lobbyists to knock off one at a time and not seven or three,” Bradshaw said.
Opponents however said that single-member district campaigns generally cost far less than multi-member campaigns, reducing the affect of campaign spending during elections.
They also say that concentrating on more localized districts can actually boost diversity in government, as it was intended to do in the single-member minority influence 31st District in Charleston.
While supporters of multi-member districts say the setup allows delegates to pool their state-allocated funds to help support special projects across their districts, single-member advocates say the lack of geographic diversity has hindered progress in rural areas.
“There are still people in eastern Kanawha County — 17 percent of the voting population in the 30th District — still peeing in the creek,” former Republican House of Delegates candidate Fred Joseph said. “Where were you pooling your assets there?”
Kanawha County Democrats Mark Hunt and Bobbie Hatfield, along with Republican Patrick Lane, represent the county on the House of Delegates special committee on redistricting.
Hunt and Lane attended Wednesday’s meeting while Hatfield sent a representative on her behalf.
The Legislature is expected to meet in an August special session to hash out a redistricting plan for the state’s House of Delegates, state Senate, and U.S. Congressional Districts.
Contact writer Jared Hunt at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-5148.
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