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Virginia GOP Makes a Mockery of the Redistricting Process

Virginia V. Trost-Thornton is why we can’t have nice things.
by Jim Swift
July 20, 2021
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(The Bulwark / Photos: GettyImages / Shutterstock)

In 2020, Virginia voters passed an amendment to the state constitution designed to thwart the kind of partisan gerrymandering that has helped make American politics so polarized in recent decades. The plan calls for the two major political parties to nominate people to serve on a bipartisan redistricting commission, with a group of former judges using those lists of nominees to fill the slots on the commission.

What could possibly go wrong?

Well, this week, the judges selected Virginia V. Trost-Thornton from the Republican list to be one of the citizen commissioners who will decide how Virginia’s district maps are drawn.

And, if her social media is any clue, Virginia V. Trost-Thornton apparently believes that Donald Trump won the 2020 presidential election.

So instead of having elected political hacks redrawing the district lines for the House of Representatives and state-level offices, Virginians will get an unelected conspiracy theorist.

The appointment comes weeks after the departure of Marvin Gilliam, a major GOP donor, from the panel. Trost-Thornton is a personal injury lawyer from the Lynchburg area and she was placed on the nomination list by Thomas K. Norment Jr., the Republican minority leader in the state senate.

On July 19, Ethan Lynne, a young Democratic political activist, highlighted an interesting social media post from Trost-Thornton.

The Bulwark found others:

I wanted to see if Mrs. Trost-Thornton was an election truther, or just a big fan of the New York Yankees and/or Nathan’s hot dogs.

Obviously, she loves Donald Trump: Her public Facebook page shows her wearing a Trump mask on Election Day.

I called every public phone number available for her, but got no answer. I called the law firm whose website lists her as a lawyer, and was told by a woman that Trost-Thornton hasn’t worked there in a long time.

After that I phoned Sen. Norment’s press secretary, Jeff Ryer, to see if Minority Leader Norment had any insight as to whether or not Trost-Thornton was an election truther. Ryer told me that the lists had been put together a while ago, well before the election and the failed insurrection attempt, and that Trost-Thornton was “one of twenty” names on the list. As I confirmed that the list was created well before May of this year, when Trost-Thornton shared this image depicting election trutherism, Ryer responded: “‘Election trutherism’—is that what you’re calling it now, really?”

We had a brief and polite conversation about the future of Virginia’s Republicans (who are on a bit of a losing streak) and Never Trump types like me, and it was clear that we weren’t exactly on the same page about Trumpism and moving forward. But that’s okay.

Based on the response, I got the sense that Ryer wasn’t very concerned about Trost-Thornton sharing “Trump Won: Save America” pictures on Facebook. After all, it’s a free country and she was just “one of twenty” people proposed by Sen. Norment.

How could you possibly hold elected Republicans responsible for the views of the people they nominate to try to fix the polarized mess of American politics?

Though in fairness to Sen. Norment, maybe it’s hard to find Republicans in good standing in Virginia who don’t swing that way. Another Republican nominee who made it onto the redistricting commission is Jose Feliciano, Jr.

Here’s a news item about the sagacious gentleman whom Virginia Republicans thought would add value to the redistricting process:

A Fredericksburg-area Republican picked for one of the citizen seats on Virginia’s new redistricting commission previously made vulgar or degrading online comments about President Donald Trump’s detractors, calling Olympic skier Lindsey Vonn a “bimbo” and actress Jane Fonda a “b*tch c**t.”

Before the November election, Jose Feliciano Jr., a 52-year-old U.S. Marine Corps veteran who listed his current job as an agent in the Federal Communications Commission’s public safety bureau, tweeted a photo of a pro-Trump highway caravan and said the only way the president could lose was a “rigged election.”

It’s kind of amazing. Virginia voters decided that they wanted to depoliticize the redistricting process. They reached a compromise on a process that should have made sense, so long as both parties behaved responsibly.

And the Virginia Republicans have nominated people like Trost-Thornton and Feliciano, making a mockery of the process.

This is why we can’t have nice things.

Jim Swift

Jim Swift is a senior editor at The Bulwark.