FOR THE SAKE OF DEMOCRACY, DUMP GERRYMANDERING
Posted on Oct 22, 2014by Doug Clark
State Reps. Jon Hardister and Pricey Harrison joined election reform advocate Jane Pinsky to make a compelling presentation on redistricting to the League of Women Voters of the Piedmont Triad yesterday.
Hardister, a Republican, and Harrison, a Democrat, are strong supporters of nonpartisan redistricting.
Pinsky heads the North Carolina Coalition for Lobbying and Government Reform. An obstacle to progress is gerrymandering, which insulates Republicans and Democrats from effective challenges in their districts.
Voting in this year’s elections hasn’t begun yet, but 79 state legislative seats already have been decided, Pinsky said. And most others are all but predetermined. “The parties have manipulated lines to keep themselves in power,” Pinsky said.
Hardister said gerrymandering hasn’t made sense to him since he studied the practice as a political science major at Greensboro College.
Even though his party is in power now, and drew the current lines to its advantage, he supports a plan to take the politics out.
“It’s about good government. It’s about giving more power to the people,” he said.
With more competitive districts, “maybe it would bring the parties together a little.”
Harrison elaborated on that point. Because districts are packed with Democratic voters or Republican voters, legislators really only have to be concerned about challenges in party primaries — Democrats from the left and Republicans from the right. It polarizes how they behave in office. That’s true in the U.S. House of Representatives and in the state legislature.
“People from districts where they’re pretty sure they’re going to be re-elected don’t have to compromise,” Pinsky said.
The state House passed a nonpartisan redistricting bill in 2011 but it never moved out of a Senate committee. In 2013, the same bill had 61 co-sponsors — a majority — but never was brought to the floor for a vote. There was no point because Senate leaders signaled they weren’t interested.
That’s no reason not to keep trying. Pinsky’s group is pushing for a new bill to be introduced in the House next year. It lets nonpartisan legislative staff draw congressional and legislative districts. Districts would have to be compact and contiguous and not drawn to favor an incumbent or political party. Legislators would get an up-or-down vote on the plans submitted to them.
To create confidence that neither party could reverse this process, the bill would put the measure on a statewide referendum in the form of a proposed constitutional amendment.
Chances are it would pass easily.
Hardister borrowed a description that’s been used many times: voters aren’t choosing their representatives; the representatives are choosing their voters.
It’s past time to restore real democracy to North Carolina.
Contact editorial writer Doug Clark at (336) 373-7039 and dgclark@News-Record.com.