Last night Democrats took control of the Virginia State Senate for the first time in twelve years.
The victory is significant because it is the first elected individual or group who will help redistrict Congress after the 2010 census (Republicans though their majority was cut in half retained control of Virginia's House of Delegates, but unlike the Senate members of that body serve two year terms so Democrats will have another crack at that one in 2009 along with trying to win re-election for Governor Tim Kaine.)
After the 2000 census, Republicans controlled redistricting in most large states (including Virginia.) How districts are drawn is of critical importance.
To give you an idea of how much the control of Congress is dictated by gerrymandering, consider what happened last year in the twenty districts which are not gerrymandered (eight in Arizona and five in Iowa drawn by citizens redistricting commissions and seven at-large districts that cover entire states.) In those twenty districts, four changed partisan hands (actually five, since Independent Bernie Sanders of Vermont was replaced by a Democrat, but I'm not even counting that as a party change since Sanders caucused with the Democrats anyway.) If this rate is projected to the entire house, last year Democrats would have picked up 87 seats instead of thirty. So clearly gerrymandering, based on this admittedly small sample (and we have our issues with redistricting here in Arizona too) limited the turnover in Congress.
And the truth is, Tom Delay and the Republicans built themselves a pretty effective wall during the early part of the decade. That wall is now crumbling for a variety of reasons, but it underscores how important it is for Democrats to control the redistricting process in as many states as possible (or at least prevent Republicans from having total control).
But at least for right now, one thing is certain. And that is that Democrats will control the Virginia state Senate in three and a half years.