In my opinion, yes. It was also the smart political decision.
The new proposal
A new proposal has been reached between Senate Democratic and Republican leadership for the Senate redistricting plan. As of this posting, the details have not been released, and the proposal still needs approval from both caucuses before it is likely to pass out of the General Assembly and be signed into law. At least one left leaning blog is lamenting that Senate majority leader Dick Saslaw caved in the negotiations.
The reason for backing down?
According to Blue Virginia:
“What I'm hearing from multiple sources is that the legal advisers to Dick Saslaw apparently changed their mind, suddenly deciding that the courts were more of a problem than they had thought. So, they advised Saslaw to avoid that route at (almost) all costs.”
IF this is accurate, the legal advice is sound. As I indicated here, what happens if no plan is reached is up in the air, but the Howell plan for redistricting is a highly unlikely outcome because it raises serious Constitutional questions on its own.
Instead, if no agreement is reached the likely outcome is a very safe plan with an emphasis on compact districts, with little consideration for the protection of incumbents. Compact districts will generally favor Republicans, as Democrats will generally have districts of overwhelming influence in urban areas, thereby diluting Democratic strength in non-urban areas. For this reason a compromise on redistricting is the smart outcome for Senate Democrats.
Who made the mistake?
Dick Saslaw made the strategic mistake when he said there was no way he would change the plan, and that he would send the same plan back to McDonnell even if it is vetoed again. In the grand scheme of things that is a much smaller political mistake than failing to compromise on redistricting.
For other redistricting posts, primary sources, and other information regarding the Virginia Redistricting process in 2011 please see The Road to Redistricting Litigation in Virginia.