WHEELING - Northern Panhandle residents told West Virginia Senate members Wednesday they like the current boundary lines of the 1st Congressional District, and they want them to stay just as they are.
One idea would combine the Northern and Eastern Panhandles into a new 1st Congressional District. The local residents don't believe the growing Eastern Panhandle and the struggling Northern Panhandle share enough common concerns to be grouped together.
The West Virginia Legislature is set to reset Congressional district lines this year - as well as those for the State Senate and House of Delegates - based upon 2010 census figures. On Wednesday, the West Virginia State Senate Redistricting Task Force convened for a public informational meeting at the City-County Building in Wheeling. More than 40 local residents attended.
Sen. John Unger, D-Berkeley, chairman of the task force, said no redistricting maps have yet to be crafted for members to consider. Also, the House has yet to choose members for its redistricting task force.
The Senate redistricting group, meanwhile, is taking the time to host 12 meetings at sites throughout the state through June, he said. The intent is to gather thoughts and ideas from the public on redistricting, and keep the redistricting process "transparent," according to Unger.
The public may follow the Senate's redistricting efforts online at www.legis.state.wv.us/joint/redistricting/senatetaskforce.cfm, where Unger said proposed redistricting maps will be placed in the future.
The legislative task forces are charged with redrawing district lines to reflect changing population areas in the state, and also to make the districts as "compact" as possible.
West Virginia will continue to have three Congressional districts, and each must accommodate about 616,000, with a variance of no more than 5 percent above or below the figure.
The 1st Congressional District - which includes the growing Monongalia County area - had a 2.2 percent population growth during the last decade.
The 2nd District encompasses a rapidly developing Eastern Panhandle and extends downward across West Virginia to the Charleston area. The district grew by 7.6 percent, while West Virginia's 3rd District in the southern part of the state lost 2.4 percent of its population.
At the task force's first meeting in the Eastern Panhandle, residents suggested they be combined into a district with the Eastern Panhandle, and that they "no longer wanted to be combined with Charleston."
"I love the Eastern Panhandle, but we in the Northern Panhandle have nothing in common with them," said Rob Barker of Wheeling. "We're industrial. They're not. The 1st District is already the right size. The 3rd District is too big, and the 2nd District is too small. That's where the changes need to come."
Many residents at the meeting said taking Mason County from the 3rd District and moving it to the 2nd District would be a simpler answer. But Unger responded that "compactness" was the issue was the issue in the Eastern Panhandle, where the district lines had been drawn under political duress a decade ago and weren't proper. He noted it takes five to six hours to drive it from end to end.
Sen. Mike Hall, R-Putnam, represents Mason County, and said he doubted residents there would want to be moved out of the 2nd District, where they are presently represented by Rep. Shelley Moore Capito. He said she has been instrumental in helping the district with road and bridges issues there.
Unger said the task force plans to wind up its meetings, and by mid-July have its ideas formulated.