CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Senate Majority Leader John Unger, D-Berkeley, says he's building consensus in the Legislature for his "practically perfect plan" for congressional redistricting -- actually, he calls it the "more perfect plan," but I prefer the "Mary Poppins" allusion.
Unlike the "perfect population plan" he proposed during the special session on redistricting, the new plan has several revisions to make it more palatable to legislators, particularly in that it does not split Kanawha or Harrison counties, nor does it put Republican incumbents Shelley Moore Capito and David McKinley in the same district.
It links the fast-growing Eastern Panhandle with fast-growing north central West Virginia in the 1st District -- or at least Monongalia and Marion counties; Harrison would go into the 2nd. The proposed 1st would also include the Northern Panhandle, which critics might say could make McKinley vulnerable to a candidate from the Eastern Panhandle.
It also creates a relatively compact 2nd District, with Kanawha as the southernmost county.
Unger contends a selling point is that it's a drivable district, linked from Kanawha to Harrison County by Interstate 79, Harrison to Wood via U.S. 50, and Wood back to Kanawha on Interstate 77.
The 3rd District is unchanged in the plan, save for the addition of most of Randolph County. (The plan keeps all counties intact, except for a small sliver of Randolph that goes into the 2nd, and a chunk of southwestern Taylor that also goes into the 2nd.)
Unger said legislation to adopt the plan could originate in the Senate as early as this week.
At least one of the litigants in the U.S. District Court case that overturned the so-called "Mason County flip" congressional redistricting plan says he would not oppose Unger's plan if approved by the Legislature.
South Charleston lawyer Thornton Cooper said his primary concern is to avoid what he calls the outrageous gerrymandering that links the Eastern Panhandle with the Ohio River counties of Mason and Jackson.
Incidentally, in his most recent U.S. District Court filing opposing a motion for a stay of the court order, Cooper advised the court that not only is he "a voter, an attorney, a political cartographer, and a party in the case," but also a former -- and potentially current -- candidate for Congress.
Cooper notes that he is chairman of the candidate recruitment committee of the Kanawha County Democratic Executive Committee, and is obligated to find Democratic candidates for every office on the 2012 general election ballot.
"Because of the popularity of Congresswoman Capito, it is difficult to find Democratic candidates who are willing to take the chance of being trounced by her in the general election," Cooper advised the court. "If by the evening of the last day of the filing period, no other Democrat has filed to run in the congressional district ... Mr. Cooper plans to recruit himself to make sure that there is a Democratic congressional candidate ..."
Cooper said that while some believe his potential candidacy presents a possible conflict of interest as a party to the suit, he noted, "My ulterior motive is to fall on my sword. What I won't let happen is to not have a Democrat on the ballot in the general election."