End Gerrymandering Now in North Carolina

12 Jan

Veteran Raleigh News and Observer state government reporter and columnist Rob Christensen, writes about the NC Coalition for Lobbying and Government Reform’s perseverance in seeking to end gerrymandering now in North Carolina

Christensen: Gerrymandering in NC results in few competitive races

If distinguished international visitors – say from Belgium and Finland – observed North Carolina’s elections they would have a difficult time describing the state’s political system as a meaningful democracy.

The system has become so rigged through redistricting that voting in general elections has become almost meaningless. Take the last congressional elections – the first held under the new district lines drawn by the Republican legislature.

Although 2,218,357 (50.6 percent) voters cast their ballots in the 13 House races for Democrats and 2,137,167 (48.7 percent) cast their ballots for Republicans, the delegation changed from a 7-6 Democratic majority to a 9-4 Republican majority.

This is the kind of election that only a Vladimir Putin or a Robert Mugabe would love.

This kind of gerrymandering has also led to endless court battles. On Monday, the N.C. Supreme Court heard arguments on a legal challenge to the 2011 redistricting plan.

Democrats have engaged in gerrymandering for years, of course. But the Republicans have taken it to even more ridiculous levels. (The GOP was at least given a fighting chance. After the two previous redistrictings under the Democrats in 1990 and 2000, the Republicans won majorities in the state House.)

Backroom dealing

I have been complaining about our rigged political system for years when Democrats were in control of redistricting.

In November 2004, I wrote that the previous election was “one that an old-style apparatchik could appreciate: an election with one-party rule, little competition and sometimes – best of all – no election whatsoever.”

Or as I wrote in 2002, “the grubby backroom dealing, gerrymandering and judge-shopping in the legislative imbroglio has done nothing but feed public cynicism about the General Assembly, politics, the courts and democracy.”

It is a natural tendency for elected officials to create safe districts to help keep their parties in power, and to make it easier for incumbents to stay in office without having to explain votes to the public.

“It’s like in the DNA of politicians,” former U.S. Rep. Bill Cobey, a former state GOP chairman, said back in 2006. “If they have an opponent – it could be like Humpty Dumpty – it will scare them to death.

“North Carolina’s voters deserve choice in who they elect,” Cobey said. “But come November, most voters won’t have a choice. There is something wrong with democracy in our state.”

Cobey made his comments at a time when the bipartisan N.C. Coalition for Lobbying and Government Reform launched its campaign in 2006 to persuade the then Democratic-controlled legislature to create a nonpartisan independent redistricting commission such as exists now in 12 states.

Nonpartisan commission

The group is still at it. About 50 residents attended a meeting on a recent night at the Martin Street Baptist Church in Raleigh. It was mostly Democratic lawmakers who showed up.

When the group, also about 50 people, recently held a similar meeting in Apex, there was stronger Republican representation, including House Speaker Pro Tem Skip Stam of Apex, a longtime supporter of an independent commission, GOP Rep. Tom Murry of Morrisville, and a representative of the conservative John Locke Foundation. Art Pope, the Raleigh businessman, conservative financier, and budget director for Gov. Pat McCrory, is a longtime supporter of an independent commission.

The group is pushing for a nonpartisan commission after the 2020 census, when no one is sure which party will be in control.

A bill passed the Republican-controlled state House in 2011 that would require the nonpartisan legislative staff to draw up the districts with the legislature allowed to vote up or down, but not change it.

The measure stalled in the Senate, but Stam is optimistic that it will pass both houses once the legal challenges over the current redistricting plans are resolved.

Meanwhile, the coalition cites how uncompetitive our elections have become.

Only one of 13 congressional races in North Carolina was competitive last time. Ninety-one percent of the state House races were noncompetitive, and 86 percent of the Senate races were noncompetitive. In roughly one half of the legislative races, the incumbent had no major party opponent.

This is occurring in one of the most closely divided states in the country, and where the legislature is making major policy changes on issues such as taxes, unemployment insurance, health benefits and schools.

Rob Christensen

End Gerrymandering Now in North Carolina

17 Dec

UnknownFormer Raleigh News and Observer editorial page editor Steve Ford attended our End Gerrymandering Now public meeting in Apex, and writes the following commentary.

Redistricting reform brings ideological adversaries together

The “peaceable kingdom,” where lions lie down with lambs amid other unlikely combos, turns out to be not so far-fetched when it comes to one of North Carolina’s most vexing policy challenges. While there are holdouts who enjoy their status as predators – or who don’t want to risk becoming prey –many conservatives and liberals agree that the state’s redistricting procedure is a mess that needs fixing.

Which group represents the lions and which the lambs? Well, let’s say that’s in the eye of the beholder.

Anyway, the outlines of a consensus spanning ideologies and parties were on display in Apex on the evening of Dec. 11. The NC Coalition for Lobbying and Government Reform sponsored a meeting to build support for a new approach to redistricting that would defuse what has become a toxic cycle of smash-mouth partisanship. A key proponent, Apex Republican Rep. Paul Stam, was on hand to talk up House Bill 606, of which he is a lead sponsor.

Nobody would mistake Stam, the House Speaker Pro Tem, for anything less than a loyal Republican and staunch conservative. But he has been pushing for redistricting reform ever since Democrats ran the show in the General Assembly and drew congressional and legislative voting district boundaries to their liking. Since Stam clearly doesn’t want to be mistaken for a hypocrite, he’s making the same kind of arguments now that his party is in charge. That puts him in league with liberal-minded reformers appalled by how the line-drawing process has been abused.

A handy way to describe that abuse is to say that instead of letting voters choose their legislators, it lets legislators choose their voters. As several folks at the well-attended Apex gathering noted, that turns a basic principle of representative democracy on its head.

Redistricting is a chore undertaken by the General Assembly at the outset of each decade, after the national census. The goal is to adjust the boundaries of congressional and legislative districts to account for population changes. Districts represented by members of Congress, the state Senate and state House are supposed to be more or less the same size as others in the respective categories.

But that’s where the age-old, disreputable art of gerrymandering comes into play. Politicians can and do skew the lines to favor their party, powerful incumbents and themselves.

‘It’s our turn’

This state’s Republicans had long chafed at what they saw as rough treatment at the hands of Democrats who controlled the redistricting machinery for decades. So when they took control of both legislative houses in the 2010 elections, they set out to fix the Democrats’ wagon.

Specialists used computers to draw districts finely calibrated to maximize GOP chances. The basic technique was to group as many Democratic voters as possible into as few districts as possible. That gave Republican candidates elsewhere a big advantage.

The payoff came in 2012, when the state’s congressional delegation ended up split 9-4 in favor of the GOP, even though Democratic candidates took 51 percent of the overall vote. Legislative Republicans padded their majorities to levels where no gubernatorial veto could be sustained if party discipline held.

The packing of Democratic voters into certain districts also meant that many black residents, who tend to favor Democratic candidates, were given the same treatment. That has given rise to lawsuits claiming violations of the federal Voting Rights Act, which is supposed to protect the voting strength of racial minorities. Legal tussles involving redistricting and minority rights have been fought with regularity in North Carolina over recent decades – more so than in any other state, and another sign of how dysfunctional our redistricting exercise has become.

“Skip” Stam explained to his hometown crowd a fact of political life: Redistricting reform has the best chance when neither party can anticipate the outcome of the next census-year election. In other words, the temptation for a party that expects to win that election, and thus maintain its power by drawing favorable district lines, is too great.

In keeping with that rule, reformers in the state House advanced a bill in 2011 – nine years before the next redistricting – and won final approval by a bipartisan 88-27 vote. Besides Stam, who was majority leader at the time, those in favor included Speaker Thom Tillis. (All the no votes were cast by other Republicans.)

The bill went nowhere in the Senate. It was reintroduced this year as H.B. 606, gathering 61 sponsors (a majority in the 120-member House), but was not brought to a vote in the face of continuing Senate resistance. The Republican leadership there, under President Pro Tem Phil Berger, has been adamant in pressing to secure partisan advantage while it has the chance.

Fewer bug-splatters

H.B. 606 would delegate the drawing of district lines to the legislature’s nonpartisan professional staff. Districts would have to be “reasonably compact” and “composed of convenient contiguous territory” – a marked contrast from the wildly spread-out and twisted shapes, cutting across county, municipal and precinct boundaries, that now are common and that confuse voters and officeholders alike. Staff-drawn district plans would be subject to up-or-down legislative votes.

The bill also includes this language, which gets to the heart of the matter: “No district shall be drawn for the purpose of favoring a political party, incumbent legislator, or member of Congress, or other person or group, or for the purpose of augmenting or diluting the voting strength of a language or racial minority group. In establishing districts, no use shall be made of any of the addresses or geographic locations of incumbents.”

Redistricting reform is an essential tonic to restore the health of a political system that depends on the honest competition of candidates and ideas. It would combat voter apathy and make officeholders more accountable. And let’s be honest: From the standpoint of those who seek to protect the interests of disadvantaged, vulnerable people – a touchstone of the NC Council of Churches – reform is especially important if it would curb undue influence amassed by those who show too little regard for folks who struggle just to get by.

Barring a court order rejecting North Carolina’s current district maps, we won’t redistrict again until 2020. That’s a long enough interval to comport with Stam’s rule of thumb – neither party should be confident that it’ll be in the driver’s seat by then. So let legislators, when they come to Raleigh in the spring, welcome their own version of the peaceable kingdom and join across party lines to give us voting districts that are fair and functional for all.

Steve Ford, former editorial page editor at Raleigh’s News & Observer, is now a Volunteer Program Associate at the North Carolina Council of Churches. This essay appeared originally appeared on the Council’s website.

- See more at: http://shar.es/OYrw2#sthash.ulZPKfPQ.dpuf

http://www.ncpolicywatch.com/2013/12/17/district-lines-and-lions-2/

End Gerrymandering Now road tour continues

12 Dec

IMG_0829When a room full of folks attend a meeting to end gerrymandering in North Carolina on a chilly December night, you know we have a big problem that needs fixing.

 

Check out more info about the event under News and Video tab

IMG_0843

Raleigh discussion on how to End Gerrymandering Now

13 Nov

IMG_0756Raleigh’s Martin Street Baptist Church hosted the fifth stop of the End Gerrymandering Now statewide tour.

Wake lawmakers supporting reform were honored.

Click here for Rep. Rosa Gill on ending gerrymandering now.

Click here for Rep. Yvonne Lewis Holley on ending gerrymandering now

Click here for former Rep. Deborah Ross on why we must end gerrymandering now.

IMG_0768

Rep. Yvonne Lewis-Holley, former Rep. Deborah Ross, Rep. Rosa Gill

Rep. Yvonne Lewis-Holley, former Rep. Deborah Ross, Rep. Rosa Gill

IMG_0777

A panel of local advocates then gave their perspective on why gerrymandering needs to end now in North Carolina. Click this to hear their comments

Audience members were encouraged to help push for passage of redistricting reform legislation by sharing information with their friends and making their voices heard by state legislators.

IMG_0757 IMG_0762 IMG_0782

Cash Michaels, journalist with The Carolinian, moderates the discussion

Cash Michaels, journalist with The Carolinian, moderates the discussion

End Gerrymandering Now meeting in Raleigh

13 Nov

Republicans gerrymandered last cycle as did Democrats in the past.  Ending gerrymandering now will be GOOD for BOTH political parties in the future.   Link to a good read

http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/news/how-republicans-rig-the-game-20131111

salamander

MEANWHILE- Join the discussion tonight on  END GERRYMANDERING NOW in North Carolina

when:  7PM -Wednesday, November 13

where:  Martin Street Baptist Church, 1001 East Martin Street

panel discussion featuring

Rev. Earl Johnson-  RWCA president

- Erin Byrd-  Blueprint Executive Director

Octavia Rainey- Southeast Raleigh activist

former Rep. Deborah Ross

conversation facilitated by Cash Michaels- journalist for The Carolinian 

End Gerrymandering Now

5 Nov
ger·ry·man·der
ˈjerēˌmandər/
verb
gerund or present participle: gerrymandering
  1. 1.
    manipulate the boundaries of (an electoral constituency) so as to favor one party or class.
    Two examples of gerrymandering
  •              North Carolina’s 12th and 4th Congressional Districts
  1. gerrymandering1

End gerrymandering now!

21 Oct

JOIN PUBLIC DISCUSSION IN WILMINGTON, NC

OCTOBER 30TH,  7 PM 

images-2

Wilmington’s  Pearsall Presbyterian Church hosts a public discussion on Ending Gerrymanding Now in North Carolina

WHEN:  October 30th, Wednesday evening at 7 pm.

WHERE:  Pearsall Presbyterian Church

3902 Market Street, Wilmington

Cape Fear county state lawmakers who support redistricting reform will be honored.

Discussion includes speakers from:

Hosted by the NC Coalition for Lobbying and Government Reform

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.