As populations shift from rural to urban areas and political maps are redrawn, agricultural advocates hope farmers and rural Virginians can maintain a cohesive voice. And they are hoping to build bridges to urban areas of the commonwealth in the process.
Virginia Farm Bureau Federation board members are anticipating the potential impact the newly empaneled legislative-redistricting commission’s decisions may have on rural communities.
Tazewell County cattle producer Emily F. Edmondson represents farmers in Southwest Virginia, where less residential density means less representation in the General Assembly.
“We have a relatively cohesive voice out here,” Edmondson said, “though it’s a small voice.”
Tobacco, beef, poultry and hemp producer Robert J. Mills Jr. agreed. He serves Farm Bureau producer members in rural Campbell, Halifax and Pittsylvania counties on the VFBF board, and those farmers have expressed some apprehension about redistricting.
“The size of districts in the Southside and Southwest Virginia are just getting larger, because new districts are being created in Northern or Eastern Virginia,” Mills said. “So I do hear concern that we’re losing more ground.”
It’s important that members of organizations like the Farm Bureau and the Virginia Agribusiness Council have conversations with leadership in urban areas, he said.
“For me, as a farmer who loves rural Virginia, it’s really hard to digest bills that are sent down from Fairfax and Northern Virginia to regulate me and how I do business on the farm. Perhaps if some rural districts expand, they may pick up pieces of urban areas, resulting in more rural representation in Richmond,” Mills said with guarded optimism.
Kristie Helmick Proctor, executive director of the Virginia Rural Center, is looking for solutions that will benefit all Virginians. The center’s mission is to enhance the prosperity of rural communities, and retain those populations.
“We encourage the redistricting commission to consider solutions that will not involve pitting rural interests against urban and suburban interests,” Proctor said. “But, instead, look at where our interests align and the important role each region plays in the ongoing health and prosperity of our commonwealth as a whole.”
The new redistricting process was set up following voter approval of a state constitutional amendment taking that power out of the hands of the legislature (although the General Assembly does retain some say in the process). While House of Delegates districts will be redrawn by the panel this year, members of that body will run in their current districts this November, because U.S. Census Bureau data is arriving too late to meet the deadline for redistricting this year.
The body also will handle future redistricting of state Senate and congressional seats, as well.