Definitely worth a close read, even if you're not in Orange County
This was quite a week. First, the legislature passed new districts for Congress and the Legislature that drastically changed the current districts. The new Congressional Districts if not struck down by the courts, would change the balance in our delegation from a fairly even split that matches our overall voting records and with several competitive districts, to a likely 10-3 Republican advantage with some very odd district boundaries.
But the Republicans didn’t stop there. While they were at it, they decided to draw new local county districts for Buncombe, Guilford and Mecklenburg counties, all without the input or a request from the local commissioners, or even letting the legislative delegations know the districts were being redrawn. In the case of Guilford, the map was sprung on the delegation without warning a month ago, but they were able to get an agreement from the President Pro-Tem to give Guilford Commissioners 60 days to hold public hearings and work out a redistricting locally. But on the last day, the day before the Guilford public hearing, the legislature redistricted the county commissioners’ districts in a final vote. To add salt to the wounds, they wrote into the bills that the local governments could not hold a referendum to change the districts for ten years. So much for local control.
All these plans were put forward by freshmen legislators who represented only a small portion of each of the counties. These moves violated all established procedure in which the legislature only responds to requests from local elected officials following public hearings.
The final maps for Congress and the Legislature violate previous court rulings and the Voting Rights Act by packing African-Americans into districts over 50%+, thereby reducing the overall influence of African-American voters, and violating both federal and state law.
Ten years ago when the Democrats were in power, they drew outrageous, gerrymandered legislative districts. The Republicans took them to court and won. The court said counties could not be split and that “communities of interest” were to be kept together. The new Senate Republican maps split 19 counties and worse, 257 precincts, increasing ballot confusion and election costs. In the House, 400 precincts are split, 40 in Wake alone. So a local precinct might have as many as four to eight different ballots to sort out. We can just hope there are not too many errors. In contrast, the Democratic Senate map split only 6 precinct splits statewide, and only 14 counties. These will be presented to the court that hears our challenge to the Republican maps. Since the court criteria is fair and legal, ours meet that challenge, whereas the Republican maps do not. One surprise, Verla Insko (who is one of the women targeted for double-bunking, in this case with Joe Hackney) no longer represents part of Chapel Hill, including where I live, which is now joined with the rural and exurban district that includes northern Durham and Orange counties and is currently represented by Bill Faison.
There are four prior court rulings and the Voter Rights Act that are basis for legal challenges, so we have just begun. Most seriously, eight of the thirty two women in the House are double-bunked and in the Senate, which has only six women, three are double-bunked with males. (Two Republican male incumbents are also double-bunked, but one of them has said he will not run). Altogether, women and children are big losers in this year’s session, both through budget cuts now and through redistricting over the next ten years.
In Congress, Rep. David Price has been put into the same district as Rep. Brad Miller, another of the concerns: Rep. Price’s present district exemplifies a community of interest encompassing the Research Triangle with major research universities in Orange, Wake and Durham counties. The newly drawn Fourth district covers six counties from Burlington in Alamance County to Fayetteville in Cumberland County. At one point, only the width of a river joins two counties, gerrymandering at its finest. There is no community of interest in the redrawn district which makes a mockery of logical and fair redistricting. The Democrats drew their own Congressional maps that split far fewer counties and precincts and retained communities of interest. If you would like to see them, all maps are on-line at: http://www.ncleg.net/gis/randr07/redistricting.
We will be back on September 12th to consider constitutional amendments for eminent domain, limiting the terms of Speaker of the House and Pro Tem of the Senate and to prohibit gay marriage.
Enjoy the summer.