CHARLESTON – Thornton Cooper proposes to split a county on a new congressional district map and State Sen. John Unger of Martinsburg proposes to split two, but only Cooper explains how he would do it.
Cooper, an attorney who lives in South Charleston, allocates every precinct in Taylor County to one district or the other, while Unger draws crooked lines through Kanawha and Harrison counties with no detail.
Unger notoriously connects Charleston to Wheeling in a First District, creating conflict between incumbents, but the fate of folks close to Charleston remains unclear.
His map apparently places Saint Albans, Belle, Mammoth, Cedar Grove and Eskdale in a Third District that links to Huntington and runs south to Logan, Beckley and Princeton.
The thick black border line on Unger's map covers at least 50 square miles by itself, leaving everyone underneath in doubt.
A similar line through Harrison County places Clarksburg in a Second District but slices off a western chunk for the First District.
The line appears to run close to Wolf Summit and Sardis.
Details matter, because federal judges will likely adopt Cooper's map or Unger's if legislators don't adopt an acceptable map by Jan. 17.
In an interview on Jan. 4, Cooper said he asked Unger for details on Kanawha and Harrison counties but didn't get any.
Cooper presented three maps to legislators, and offered a fourth to federal judges.
He said he produced them with pen, paper, and calculator.
He follows two rules that turn redistricting upside down. First, he pays no attention to where incumbents live. Second, he pays no attention to existing district boundaries.
The fresh approach turns it into a mathematical exercise, pleasant for one like Cooper who as a child played with numbers in his head while he played with friends.
He identified himself as a Democrat but said that if he wanted to hurt Republicans, he would have placed its two incumbent Representatives in the same district.
He said that when federal judges rejected a map the Legislature enacted, it showed a lawyer can help legislators follow the Constitution.
"I've taken the horse to water but I can't make it drink," Cooper said.
On his current map, a First District connects the Northern and Eastern Panhandles with a narrow link through Morgantown and Fairmont.
His Second District combines Charleston, Huntington, and Parkersburg, with a southern section that picks up Boone, Lincoln and Wayne counties.
His spacious Third District runs from Williamson on the west to Princeton on the south, and then north through Beckley and Lewisburg to Clarksburg and Elkins.
Unger's First District combines Charleston, Parkersburg, Wheeling, Fairmont and Morgantown.
His spacious Second District combines Martinsburg, Clarksburg, Elkins, Lewisburg and Fayetteville.
His Third District combines Point Pleasant, Huntington, Williamson, Beckley and Princeton.