Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell hinted Thursday that he could sign off on a surprise maneuver by Senate Republicans to redraw district boundaries even as he said his party's actions were out of line.
McDonnell said the power play by the Senate GOP to sneak a vote on a redistricting bill when a Democratic lawmaker, Sen. Henry Marsh of Richmond, was attending President Obama's inauguration was bad form. But the Republican governor added that the ends could justify the means, laying the groundwork for him to ultimately give his approval.
"There's a lot of bills that I get that I might not like the way it was done, that I don't like the way they were amended and so forth," McDonnell said. "But my job when I get a bill is not to look at the process, it's to look at the bill on the merits."
The bill originally came to the Senate as technical changes to a handful of House districts, but on Monday, Republicans presented an amendment that rewrote the entire map to give them favorable districts in the 2015 elections. That passed the Senate on a 20-19 party-line vote and now awaits for approval from the House.
Outraged Democrats said the move is unconstitutional and district boundaries can only be redrawn every 10 years after census data are analyzed for population changes. Republicans claim they are fixing the ills of the last map, passed when Democrats controlled the Senate in 2011.
"I don't think voters can hold their representatives accountable if they don't know who they are," said House Minority Leader David Toscano, D-Charlottesville. "I hope we will do the right thing and dispatch of this thing sooner rather than later."
Senate Democrats have vowed to block McDonnell's transportation plan if the new districts are approved. For the second consecutive day, the House balked at taking up the bill as Republican leadership decides whether the political gain is worth a meltdown in Richmond between the two parties.
McDonnell too has expressed concern that the redistricting spat is a distraction that could sidetrack what is supposed to be his signature legislative achievement. But he also warned Democrats that voters will hold them accountable if bad blood gets in the way of their work, another signal he expects action even if this redistricting plan goes forward.
"Every person has got to vote on transportation based on what they think is important to their district," McDonnell said. "They hear enough of those kinds of excuses across the Potomac."