The farce beyond the redistricting drama

By: - February 18, 2016 2:19 pm

There has been high political drama in Raleigh this week as state House and Senate leaders rushed to put new congressional district maps together after a three-judge federal panel ruled the current district plans were unconstitutional and no last minute reprieve appeared from the U.S. Supreme Court.

Political insiders have been riveted as new maps appeared Wednesday that shifted all 13 congressional districts and left two sitting members of Congress living outside the districts they currently represent.

A newly formed district in the Piedmont has no incumbent, prompting questions about who legislative leaders drew the district for since it has a clear majority of Republican voters. Rumors were also flying about which legislators might run for Congress now with the new configuration.

The political class was in a frenzy.

House and Senate leaders claim they ignored race when drawing the districts which seems unlikely since it appears, as Sen. Dan Blue pointed out, that many black voters were packed into three districts to dilute their influence in other ones.

One thing is certain. The maps were gerrymandered to make sure that Republicans maintain their 10-3 advantage in the state’s congressional delegation in a state that by all accounts is evenly divided politically.

That’s not speculation or even a conclusion that can be drawn from the breakdown of the districts. Legislative leaders openly admit it.

They are up front about their intention to redraw the maps to maximize their political power and decide the elections before they are held. House Redistricting Co-Chair David Lewis says the GOP advantage is 10-3 under the new plan only because he couldn’t figure out a way to make it 11-2.

Parsing the lines and speculating about who will run in what districts may be scintillating to folks who follow state politics every day, but it’s a safe bet that folks outside the political class in Raleigh don’t see much drama in it.

From the outside it looks like Republican politicians using their power to manipulate elections for their own interests just like the Democratic politicians did when they were in charge.

Some folks might remember that many of the same Republicans now brazenly rigging elections for their friends were loudly demanding an independent redistricting process when they were in the minority, saying it was time to take politics out of the process and do what’s best for the voters not the politicians.

Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger sponsored a bill for an independent redistricting process five times before his party took over the Senate in the 2010 election.

Many of the same Democrats now demanding a new process to draw districts ignored those pleas when they were in power.

As a practical matter, it’s far from certain the federal court will view these new districts as any more constitutional than the ones currently in place that the court rejected. The Voting Rights Act is still in play as is the court’s concern about packing black voters to dilute their influence.

The congressional primary will be postponed until later this year regardless unless the Supreme Court swoops in with a stay of the three-judge panel’s ruling.

Republican leaders seem undaunted by it all, claiming that their new districts are fair and legal. That’s what they said about the current districts too.

It turns out they weren’t legal and the new ones might not be either.

And nobody in Raleigh thinks the maps are fair.

They might be payback. They might be the Republicans’ chance to gerrymander or a while. They might be a great example of how computers can make political map drawing amazing precise.

But they are not fair. Not to the voters and not to democracy.

And that’s the story that seems lost this week amid all the drama about the new lines and who might run in which district and which incumbent is better off.

The people outside the Raleigh Beltline aren’t captivated by all the machinations, they are disgusted watching politicians in power protect themselves above all else.

And folks wonder why this is the year of the outsider.

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Chris Fitzsimon

Chris Fitzsimon, Founder and Executive Director of N.C. Policy Watch, writes the Fitzsimon File, delivers a radio commentary broadcast on WRAL-FM and hosts "News and Views," a weekly radio news magazine that airs on multiple stations across North Carolina. [email protected] 919-861-2066