CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Once the last of 12 statewide public hearings concludes Thursday in Princeton, the Senate Task Force on Redistricting will begin work to redraw the 17 state Senate districts for the next decade, the panel's chairman said Wednesday.
"By focusing in on the people first, and then coming together and discussing among ourselves, their suggestions will be first and foremost in our minds," Senate Majority Leader John Unger, D-Berkeley, said of the task force's strategy.
Once the final public hearing ends, Unger said senators will have an opportunity to submit draft redistricting maps, to be reviewed by the task force.
"By holding off until the public hearings were over, I wanted our senators to be focused on what is best for the people, and not necessarily what's best for themselves," Unger said.
A decade ago, as a freshman senator, Unger was a party in a federal lawsuit challenging the Senate redistricting plan -- a plan he believed left the fast-growing Eastern Panhandle under-represented in order to preserve senatorial districts in Southern West Virginia.
As task force chairman, Unger said he wanted a sharp contrast to the 2001 redistricting, which he contended was a largely closed-door process.
"The open and transparent process forces us to look after the people, rather than ourselves," he said, adding, "The very foundation of democracy is equal representation: One person, one vote."
Unger said he would expect the task force to have at least one and possibly several meetings prior to an anticipated August special session on redistricting.
"At that point, we can start looking at maps from the various members, and start putting it together, like a puzzle," he said.
Senate President Earl Ray Tomblin, acting as governor, has tentatively discussed calling a special session to begin Aug. 1. However, Unger said there has been talk of pushing back the start of the session to avoid possible conflicts with the National Conference of State Legislatures' annual summit in San Antonio, beginning Aug. 8, which several legislators are planning to attend.
Unger said he personally opposes postponing the special session.
"The Senate is going to be ready Aug. 1," he said. "I hope the governor doesn't kowtow to an out-of-town meeting."
Reach Phil Kabler at ph...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1220.