RICHMOND—The Virginia General Assembly has passed a new redistricting plan for state electoral districts and will be tackling federal voting districts later this summer.
According to the changes in population recorded by the 2010 Census, one thing is for certain: Rural Virginians will have less direct political representation in Richmond and Washington.
Virginia’s population last year totaled 7.9 million, up from 7.1 million a decade earlier. With Northern and Central Virginia gaining population and the Hampton Roads region holding steady, Southwest and Southside Virginia already have lost some state legislators, and federal districts will shift as well.
Farmers like Thomas Graves in Orange County are watching the redistricting process closely. He serves on the Virginia Farm Bureau Federation board of directors and is a past president of Orange County Farm Bureau.
"With the shift in legislators to more urban areas from the rural areas, we could very well see funding for programs that are very important to rural areas be limited," Graves said. "Issues such as environmental funding, Virginia Cooperative Extension funding, funding for schools and roads—funding for all those programs could be shifted to more urban areas, and rural areas could be left out."
Graves noted that rural Virginians share many of the same concerns as their suburban and urban counterparts, particularly a chronic shortage of money for roads and schools. But they also have a major role in protecting the environment, and that involves costs most other Virginians don’t bear.
"Cost-share funding for environmental programs mandated by the EPA and the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality are vital to the farming community," Graves said. "We need that money simply because we cannot afford to do all these projects on our own. The sheer volume and scale and cost of them cannot be borne by the agriculture community by itself."
Other political challenges faced by rural Virginia include access to adequate and affordable health care; urban sprawl and farmland preservation; and environmental regulations, Graves said. He said Farm Bureau and its members will work even harder to have their viewpoints heard by political leaders at all levels of government.
Contact Graves at 540-854-5903 or Norm Hyde, VFBF communications, 804-290-1146.