Geography & Virginia Politics

State Senator Dave Marsden and former Virginia Delegate Bob Hull, currently the community outreach specialist for NOVA’s Annandale Campus, visited Instructor David Miller’s Cultural Geography (Geo 210) class at NOVA Annandale on June 10 to talk about changes in their districts over time.

Both speakers discussed redistricting, which is done after every census so that voting districts are roughly equal in population, and “gerrymandering,” where the political party in power shapes districts to gain political advantage. Districts were last redrawn in 2011, when Republicans controlled the House of Delegates and the governor’s mansion, with Democrats a majority in the Virginia Senate. Districts were drawn to protect incumbent legislators and minimize the number of Democratic districts in the House of Delegates and the U.S. House of Representatives.

Senator Dave Marsden (D-Fairfax) talked about his serpentine-shaped State Senate District 37, which includes NOVA’s Annandale campus (map below). The 2011 redistricting stretched his Fairfax County district east to west, from inside the Beltway to the Loudoun County border, with a population of some 200,000 people.


Senate district 37 before and after redistricting.

The map in the image below shows his district as conservative and Republican in the west (red areas), and more liberal and Democratic in the east (blue areas). Senator Marsden asked students to “define liberty” and many students were at a loss to put this common concept into words. He explained, “liberty means different things to different people.” His constituents differed in their concerns about liberty, ranging from guns and fox pens to Virginia’s minimum wage and the Sea of Japan – East Sea controversy in Virginia textbooks.

State Senator Marsden describing his district.

State Senator Marsden describing his district.

Sen. Marsden talks in Oct 2015 about elections.

Sen. Marsden talks in Oct 2015 about elections.

Former Delegate Bob Hull speaking to students.

Former Delegate Bob Hull speaking to students.

Former Delegate Hull represented District 38 from 1993 to 2010. A lifelong Falls Church area resident, Hull earned his associate degree in biology at NOVA before transferring to Virginia Tech. In the 1990s, Hull’s district stretched from Alexandria in the east to the beltway in the west and included all of the City of Falls Church. Hull described how District 38 lost Falls Church, became more compact, and changed in ethnic diversity, as the district’s population swelled to more than 80,000 people by 2010.

Both speakers reminded students that 2015 is an election year in Virginia, with all 100 delegates and 40 state senators up for election on November 3, 2015. They noted that too few people vote in primaries (see graph below), which presents a danger to democracy. Students were encouraged to be aware of local issues and vote in primaries as well as the November elections.

Only 29% of all voters take part in General Assembly (GA) elections for the House of Delegates and State Senate, shrinking to 7.8% for the 2015 primaries.

Just 29% of Virginians voted in the 2011 General Assembly (GA) elections for the House of Delegates and State Senate, but only 7.8% voted in the 2015 primaries.

18 thoughts on “Geography & Virginia Politics

  1. It was interesting to hear about Senator Marsden’s serpentine shaped 37th district and how redistricting happens. He told us districts expand to give an advantage to a political party. I liked that Marsden shared with us about housing prices going down as you go to the western part of his district — far from Washington. But people who spend more time in their commute have less time for political issues and political parties. Bob Hull described the 38th House of Delegates district from 1993 to 2010, which included Fairfax and Falls Church city — until Falls Church was lost in the 2001 redistricting.

  2. Both Dave Marsden and Bob Hull made good points. Marsden’s take on asking students to define liberty must have gotten interesting responses, as well as his reply in saying that liberty means different things to different people. Bob Hull seemed to have made his own impact, telling the class that not enough people vote in Virginia’s primaries (which is happening this year). Letting people know that primaries are important and can affect them is a good way to get voters out to the stations.

    Heather Brown

  3. Former Delegate Hull was very informative about the City of Falls Church. He had some great stories, and they were fun to hear because I was raised in that city. Senator Marsden was more informative about gerrymandering and explaining to us in detail how it all works. One of the questions asked in class was “how do you get people to vote for you?” He replied, “by simply listening to their problems.” I learned from him that you can’t make everyone happy, but you can listen. I learned a lot about Democrats versus Republicans in Northern Virginia.

  4. While I was only there for former Virginia Delegate Bob Hull, I really enjoyed his input. I liked how he spoke of his time in the office and what he does now at NOVA. It was also really nice to hear about how he got into politics in the first place. Thank you for having them in class, it was an eye opening experience!

  5. Both Senator Dave Marsden and Bob Hull made a lot of interesting points. It was my first time hearing everything about the Virginia legislature since I’m an international student. It was amazing to know that there are 40 senators in the Virginia State Senate. I’m so glad I got to hear from Senator Dave Marsden and Bob Hull and learn about Virginia politics. Thank you for having them in the class!

  6. State Senator Dave Marsden and former Virginia Delegate Bob Hull gave informative speeches in class. They both presented their perspectives of redrawing districts (gerrymandering). Delegate Hull provided his background which I enjoyed and he explained about District 38 and the population growth in Falls Church and Alexandria. He discussed the political geography in Virginia for Republican and Democratic elections. Senator Mardsen gave a presentation about 2011 District 37’s redistricting, and he had a good point of defining “liberty” because people have different perspectives of defining “liberty” based on diversity. I also liked how friendly Marsden interacted with the audience.

  7. Both State Senator Dave Marsden and former Virginia Delegate Bob Hull were very informative and engaging. I enjoyed Bob Hull’s knowledge about the growth of Northern Virginia and how much it has changed. Senator Marsden was entertaining to listen too. Especially when he brought up the story of when he hosted a meeting with all Republicans while he was the only Democrat. I also learned why some parts of his district vote the way they do.

  8. Senator Dave Marsden’s speech was very engaging. He explained what he did for his district to improve. A Senator’s job is to represent the people in his district; also to take care of the voting process for the new bills. I liked how he told us how he started his career. Everything was new to me since I am an international student.

  9. A senator’s duties include representing the people living in his or her district in the Virginia Senate. Part of this job is to write and vote on new laws called “bills.” It was interesting listening to Senator Marsden describing his “serpentine” district and how redistricting happens and how gerrymandering works. Something new I found out was that districts expand to provide an edge to a political party as the more people who are in a district vote for their respective senator. I liked how Senator Marsden was really relaxed and composed and wasn’t boring by talking in a monotone voice about his district. He talked about how he played basketball and got a scholarship, and how he was the head of the Juvenile Detention program which was pretty cool.

  10. During Senator Marsden’s visit to our class, I learned a lot that I was unaware of before. A state senator is in charge of ensuring that their district has what they need in order to be successful. Also, they make sure to hear out and listen to the peoples’ suggestions so that their district is able to come into a compromise about different issues. From Senator Marsden’s talk I learned that there were 40 different districts in the state of Virginia. I never took the time to learn about Virginia and its districts, so that was really interesting. I also learned about how within his district people are Republican or Democrat depending on where they live. I remember him saying specifically that in the Burke area they love him, and I thought it was interesting how that all worked. I really enjoyed how he told us about different topics using stories that he had encountered himself. I also liked how he was not hesitant about answering anyone’s questions. He was very straightforward and helped us understand the job of a state senator.

    • Good comments, but please capitalize Republican or Democrat when referring to the political parties. Also, also you went a bit over the 100 word limit.

  11. I really enjoyed Senator Marsden’s visit, and learned quite a lot. I came into class not knowing much about what state senators do and left with a good amount of new information. For instance I learned about the state senator’s role, which includes representing a specific geographic district within the state. I learned about redistricting and how its a political process drawn by the legislature. I also learned about Senator Marsden’s personal life, some of his stances in certain issues, previous jobs and opinions on the upcoming presidential election. I really liked how he connected Virginia’s history to the challenge’s he faces in Republican districts. Overall he seemed like a very likable politician and made me want to vote for him this upcoming month.

  12. A state senator is a member of a state’s senate, the upper house in the bicameral legislature of 49 U.S. states, or a legislator in Nebraska’s one-house state legislature. Senators belong to the legislative branch of the government, which is the part of the government that makes laws.
    It was interesting for me, and I understand that he is on Agriculture Natural Resources committee and making sure farmers stay on pretty high standards and fenced their stream.

  13. A State Senator’s job is to represent the people living in his or her district in the Virginia Senate.
    State Senator Marsden’s talk was very informative. I learned a lot about how he made sure to hear out peoples views and suggestions to improve his district. How he truly represents his district in an overall view. I liked a lot how he engaged our class by asking us questions and even though we didn’t know the correct answer he took the time to explain so we could understand.

    • Good–I changed part of your first sentence to say “district in the Virginia Senate,” rather than “state in the U.S. Senate.”

  14. A state senator’s job is to represent their constituents in the Senate, creating and supporting legislation that best represents those constituents. Senator Marsden was an engaging speaker, and it was refreshing that he invests time and energy in community outreach. I did not know that he had not always been a Democrat, but had in fact been a moderate Republican. Learning that he changed parties only when he could not support the changing ideals made him much more relatable. It demonstrated that he is committed to the people he represents and not just the party most likely to support him.

  15. A state senator represents the constituents of their district inside their state’s Senate. They vote on bills that were passed by their state’s House of Delegates and can either pass a bill to their Governor or veto it. A state senator also listens to their constituents’ issues concerning their district. I liked how Senator Marsden was able to engage the class in a very informative and energetic way while explaining the evolution of Virginia’s Senate. What I learned that was new to me was that the Virginia Senate meets for only 45 to 60 days depending on the year.

  16. The talk that senator Marsden gave to our class was very informative, in my opinion. One thing I learned is that congressional and state legislative districts provide criteria for the General Assembly to observe in drawing districts. This includes respect for political boundaries, equal population, racial and ethnic fairness, contiguity, compactness, and communities of interest. All in all, I was very pleased with the information he provided and can’t wait to learn more on my own.

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