Farmers want to maintain a cohesive voice

Published 1:39 pm Thursday, March 4, 2021

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As populations shift from rural to urban areas and political maps are reexamined, agricultural advocates hope farmers and rural Virginians can maintain a cohesive voice.

A diverse group of eight Virginians will join eight legislators in serving on the state’s new redistricting commission. They soon will be tasked with redrawing the state’s political maps using new U.S. Census data.

A panel of retired judges chose 64 finalists from 1,200 applicants selected by General Assembly leaders. The judges then picked six men and two women of varied race, age, political affiliation and geographical location to fill the eight citizen seats on the 16-member commission.

The commission’s eight legislative seats were chosen by the General Assembly’s four political caucuses and also represent the state’s geographical makeup.

Del. Les Adams, R- Chatham, was one of the two House Republicans appointed to a seat on the commission. He represents Henry and Pittsylvania counties, where his father and grandfather farmed. He said the constitutional amendment creating a redistricting commission was widely endorsed.

“People recognized that the time was right to provide political balance to a process that carries such an important responsibility for self-government,” Adams said. “I look forward to fulfilling the duties that the people have set before us.”

Virginia Farm Bureau Federation board members are anticipating the potential impact the 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 explained. “So I do hear concern that we’re losing more ground.”

It’s important that members of organizations like 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.

Adams said he’s in their corner. “The needs of our rural communities are always at the forefront of my service and will certainly be represented on this commission.”

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.”