RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Virginia House Democrats believe a Republican from Fredericksburg selected to be on the state’s new redistricting commission should be taken off the panel before its first meeting, calling for the removal of Jose A. Feliciano, Jr. after he tweeted that the only way President Trump could lose the election is if “the election is rigged.”
Nine days ago, Feliciano was one of eight citizens chosen by a panel of five retired judges to work alongside state lawmakers already on the committee in the effort to redraw the state’s congressional and legislative districts.
Voters in Virginia passed a constitutional amendment in November creating a bipartisan group to redraw the legislative boundaries following the 2020 Census. The referendum mandated that the 16-member group be made up of eight state legislators, four Democrats and four Republicans who have been named already, and eight citizen members selected by the panel.
Legislative leaders narrowed the field of applicants for the redistricting commission, selecting 62 finalists out of the more than 1,200 who applied for the eight spots reserved for citizens on the commission. Feliciano was among the 16 finalists chosen by House Minority Leader Todd Gilbert (R- Shenandoah).
The National Democratic Redistricting Committee shared screenshots of Feliciano’s tweets — 8News could not verify the tweets because Feliciano deleted his account but he confirmed that he wrote them in an email to the Virginia Mercury, who first reported the story — that also show vulgar and insulting messages about actress Jane Fonda and Olympic skier Lindsey Vonn.
“The revelation of highly inappropriate behavior by an individual selected to serve on the Independent Redistricting Commission is extremely disturbing,” Virginia House Democratic Caucus Executive Director Jaime Reimers said in a statement. “In being selected, this individual is entrusted with ensuring our democratic process by drawing the legislative lines of our Commonwealth for the next decade.”
In one tweet from October, Feliciano retweets a picture of a massive pro-Trump caravan with the comment: “Amazing. There is No way Trump can loose. Unless the election is rigged.”
A spokesman for House Republicans did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment. Feliciano did not respond to requests seeking an interview or comment.
“Mr. Feliciano must be immediately removed from the Commission and Leader Gilbert and Delegate Cole owe Virginians a full explanation on why they believe an individual who denies the legitimacy of our elections is fit to serve on a Commission so crucial to our democracy,” Reimers’ statement said. “Virginians deserve answers in order to restore their trust in the selection process.”
Amigo Wade, the director of Virginia’s Division of Legislative Services who worked with the panel during the selection process, told 8News on Friday that the “enabling statute for the Redistricting Commission does not include a process for removing a commissioner.”
Two Democratic leaders in the General Assembly, House Speaker Eileen Filler-Corn (Fairfax) and Senate President Pro Tempore Louise Lucas (Portsmouth), and two members of the Republican leadership, House Minority Leader Gilbert and Senate Minority Leader Tommy Norment (James City), submitted their finalists after choosing two members from their caucus to sit on the commission.
“The fact that an individual capable of such behavior was nominated by the Republican minority leader and received a personal letter of recommendation supporting his appointment from the former Republican Chair of the Privileges and Elections Committee demands explanation and accountability,” Reimers continued
Despite having until Jan. 15 and setting aside days for discussion, the panel selected the eight citizens in their first scheduled meeting on Jan. 6. The judges were obligated to select members who represent Virginia’s ethnic, geographic, gender and racial diversity. The panel also had to choose two members from each leader’s list, putting four recommendations from each party.
Of the citizen members, there are six men and two women on the commission. Half are White, two are Black, one is Asian American and one is biracial. Feliciano is the only Hispanic member on the commission.
“At a bare minimum, Feliciano’s tone on Twitter alone is disqualifying to serve on the powerful bipartisan redistricting commission. He repeatedly tweeted slurs at women and questioned if the U.S. had been involved with slavery, failing to properly reckon with a deeply shameful part of our country’s history,” said Molly Mitchell, National Democratic Redistricting Committee (NDRC) States Press Secretary. “Beyond that if Feliciano truly believes that the election is rigged as he shared on Twitter– a baseless conspiracy theory that helped fuel the attack on the U.S. Capitol last week, he does not deserve an influential appointment that will shape Virginia’s politics for the next decade through the redistricting process.”
The legislators already named to the commission include Dels. Delores McQuinn (D-Richmond), Les Adams (R-Pittsylvania), Marcus Simon (D-Fairfax), and Margaret Ransone (R-Westmoreland), and Sens. Mamie Locke (D-Hampton), Ryan McDougle (R-Hanover), George Barker (D-Fairfax) and Steve Newman (R-Lynchburg).
UPDATE — On Jan. 21, the first day the new commission met, Del. Vivian Watts (D-Fairfax) told 8News she was filing emergency legislation — which would need 4/5 approval to go into effect immediately — to give commission members the authority to remove other members for misconduct.
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