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Posted by on Feb 9, 2015

Legislature divided on redistricting

Legislature divided on redistricting
Last updated: February 06. 2015 4:11PM – 477 Views
By William R. Toler –

Richmond County Daily Journal

ROCKINGHAM — Some state lawmakers are joining together in a bipartisan effort to limit legislative control over redistricting.
A House bill introduced Wednesday calls for an amendment to the state Constitution that would establish an independent redistricting commission to determine districts starting in 2030.
The commission would propose three plans to the General Assembly for the election of state House and Senate members and U.S. representatives. If legislators fail to act within 120 days, the commission would adopt one of the three plans.
The bill sets up a nine-person commission with two members chosen by the chief justice of the state Supreme Court, three by the governor and the remaining four by the leadership in both houses.
Membership on the commission would be limited to those who had not held or ran for a public office four years prior to being appointed and prohibited from holding public office for four years after leaving.
Rep. Ken Goodman, D-Richmond, said he is “solidly in favor of that, 100 percent” and intends to sign on as a co-sponsor.
Goodman said he has supported similar attempts in the past.
“It absolutely would create better government if we could get that done,” he said.
“It’s ridiculous when you really think about it for my district to be parts of five counties,” he added. “It would make more sense to keep counties whole.”
Aside from Richmond, Goodman’s district includes portions of Hoke, Scotland, Montgomery and Robeson counties.
“I’m glad to represent these folks,” he said. However, Goodman said with being spread out so far, “It’s hard to be where you need to be…it’s really unfair to those voters.”
Speaker Pro-tempore Rep. Paul Stam, a Wake County Republican, said now would be the best time to consider the change ahead of the 2020 census.
“This is not about the current maps,” Stam said at a news conference Tuesday. “The idea is that in constructing districts, the people with the most at stake are probably (the) ones who shouldn’t be doing the details.”
While Democrats and the Republicans in the House seem to agree, the Senate remains the main hurdle.
A redistricting overhaul bill passed the House in 2011, but stalled in the Senate.
Goodman said although he supports the plan, he’s not optimistic about its passing.
Senate Rules Chairman Tom Apodaca, R-Henderson, told the Associated Press that any House bill would not move forward in his chamber.
Sen. Bob Rucho, R-Mecklenberg, who helped draw the last boundaries, said the commission is “unnecessary.”
“It’s rare that people abdicate power,” Goodman said. “If they don’t want it to happen, it won’t happen.”
Freshman Sen. Tom McInnis, R-Richmond, seems more willing to entertain the notion than the Senate leadership, but his overall sentiment is the same.
“I will gladly review whatever proposal the House sends over, but I have serious concerns about the independence and objectivity of so-called ‘independent’ redistricting efforts,” he said in a statement to the Daily Journal on Thursday.
“I think it should be left as-is because the North Carolina Supreme Court has upheld that the redistricting maps passed by the General Assembly in 2011 do meet state and federal standards,” he continued. “Furthermore, the 25th Senate District is competitive due to the fact that both political parties have won elections.”
In his syndicated newspaper column this week, John Locke Foundation chairman John Hood wrote how “the redistricting drama here in North Carolina is itself full of contrasts and inversions.”
“During the 1990s and 2000s, when Democrats were in control of the General Assembly, they rejected repeated calls for changing the way North Carolina drew its congressional and legislative districts by arguing that they were just following the rules of a game they did not invent,” wrote Hood.
“After the 2010 elections gave control of the General Assembly to the Republicans, they proceeded to draw the congressional and legislative maps,” he continued. “Although compliant with state and federal law, the resulting districts clearly gave GOP candidates an edge in achieving majorities of North Carolina’s legislative and congressional seats.”
Even Gov. Pat McCrory has expressed concerns over gerrymandering.
“I think the gerrymandered districts where we have no competition in the general election makes all of our jobs difficult, especially the executive branch,” McCrory said in a November interview with WFAE radio in Charlotte. “I have to represent the whole state. Legislators, both Republican and Democrat, tend to now represent a more monolithic population.”
To show that redistricting reform is a nonpartisan issue, two former mayors from opposite parties collaborated on a December op-ed in The Charlotte Observer.
Richard Vinroot, a Republican and former mayor of Charlotte, joined with Democrat and former Raleigh mayor Charles Meeker to lobby the General Assembly for reforming legislation in 2015.
“It is understandable that when each party gains control, they draw the maps to protect themselves and their side,” the pair wrote. “But that process is not good for the people of North Carolina and the future of our great state.
“As former mayors of North Carolina’s two largest cities, we know how important it is to have a government that fairly represents the people, and in which voters have confidence. And we believe that the way we have drawn maps in North Carolina for the past five decades or longer has undermined citizens’ confidence in our government, created highly partisan legislative districts and caused gridlock.”
The two former mayors said they support a plan that is based on the way maps have been drawn in Iowa for the past 35 years.
“They cannot be drawn based on the political makeup of districts, past voter turnout or other partisan factors,” they wrote. “Instead, the maps are drawn by professionals, reviewed by citizens and then approved or disapproved by the legislature in a timely fashion.”
Hood wrote that he’s been a longtime supporter of redistricting reform, but isn’t “wedded” to any particular model.
“I’m sure redistricting reformers would welcome any of a wide range of alternatives as long as it is based on the principle that neutral rules should be our means and competitive elections our end,” he wrote.
Mirroring Goodman’s sentiments, he concluded, “I know that convincing lawmakers to give up power over the electoral maps won’t be easy. Still, it’s the right thing to do.”
Reach reporter William R. Toler at 910-817-2675.