"They were loaded for bear," Unger recalled. "They were being passionate, passionate about their support for Congressman McKinley, and they wanted to make sure that he was protected."
Unger noted that he and the task force were attacked following the hearing in at least one letter to the Wheeling newspapers. Task force members were criticized for being inattentive, though Unger said he took notes throughout the hearing and the panel recorded video they hope to post on their redistricting website.
Unger said the process was also derided as politics as usual, partly because Unger had considered running for Congress in 2008. He raised funds and attracted endorsements, but on the final day for candidacy filings decided against a bid.
"It's not just an exercise of politics as usual. This has never been done before," Unger said of the task force and its hearing schedule. "We ultimately will have to answer for what we do. So we're saying, 'You all need to help us draw this map.'"
And while Unger did not comment specifically on the pro-McKinley comments, the task force's philosophy appeared at odds with the push to protect that district.
"You should not draw lines for politicians. You should draw lines for communities," Unger said. "Taking the personalities out, taking the politics out, is what makes sense."
The task force's website public hearing dates, times and locations along with detailed information from the Census population count and about the redistricting process. There's also a section for residents to weigh in; 19 comments had been posted as of Sunday.
The Legislature is expected to draft and then vote on redistricting plans sometime this summer, in advance of the 2012 elections.
Online: Senate Redistricting Task Force: http://www.legis.state.wv.us/redistricting.cfm
Lawrence Messina covers the statehouse for The Associated Press. He can be followed at http://twitter.com/lmessina.