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Posted by on May 28, 2014

Editorial- Redistricting should benefit the voters, not the politicians

WILMINGTON STAR-NEWS

Published: Friday, May 23, 2014 at 10:05 p.m.
Last Modified: Friday, May 23, 2014 at 10:05 p.m.
Our political system is supposed to represent the voters. Too often, political parties and special interests run the show. Gerrymandering, that old standard, is made even more efficient by technology that allows cherry-picking or isolation of certain voting blocs, depending on where the lines are drawn.

What often results is a convoluted mess that confuses voters and serves to entrench one party or the other.

For a number of years now, a coalition has been pushing to leave the map drafting to an independent, bipartisan commission that contains no politicians. The key players would be the professional legislative staff, who with the commission would be charged with drawing district lines that make sense, rather than the Rorschach-like inkblots that make up many of North Carolina’s congressional districts.

That effort got a strong bipartisan face earlier this month, when former Charlotte Mayor Richard Vinroot, a Republican, and former Raleigh Mayor Charles Meeker, a Democrat, joined forces to promote a process whose objective is fair representation for voters – not favored status for political parties. They support a constitutional amendment to assign the job of redistricting to an independent, bipartisan commission; the General Assembly would have the final vote in redistricting. Twenty-one states have a similar system.

Voters of all political parties have a stake in developing a fairer process, because both Democrats and Republicans have manipulated census statistics into illogically shaped districts intended to give their party a strong advantage – using race and wealth as well as party registration as guides.

They do so by drawing oddly shaped lines to corral strong voting blocs of their opponents into “safe” districts (leaving their own party’s more reliable votes in the remaining districts), or by tucking blocs of the opposing party’s likely voters into unfavorable districts.

Technology has made the cherry-picking even more efficient.

Three of the nation’s 10 most gerrymandered districts are in this state – North Carolina’s 1st, 4th and 12th districts, according to The Washington Post. The 12th District, which was also badly gerrymandered by Democrats previously, is No. 1. (See graphic on opposite page.)

The Post’s data gurus measured what they call “compactness, which means districts that generally don’t contain lots of little fingers shooting out and grabbing key demographics. By that measure, North Carolina is the nation’s second most gerrymandered state. It was only more gerrymandered, according to The Post, during the 103rd Congress – the first two years of Bill Clinton’s first term as president. Democrats were in charge of the state legislature.

It doesn’t have to be that way. The state’s constitution dictates that county lines be respected where possible – that would be a good start toward more sensible district boundaries. In 2009, in a case challenging Democratic-drawn legislative lines in Pender County, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed.

We have six years until the next census, and another year after that before the next redistricting. The Honorables already have the power – if they choose to use it – to develop a system that puts the voters first.

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Posted by on May 28, 2014

I Know Thats Not Right: Richard Vinroot On Gerrymandering – Poking the Hornets Nest – May 2014 – Charlotte, NC

I Know Thats Not Right: Richard Vinroot On Gerrymandering – Poking the Hornets Nest – May 2014 – Charlotte, NC

I Know Thats Not Right: Richard Vinroot On Gerrymandering – Poking the Hornets Nest – May 2014 – Charlotte, NC.

 

The Republican ex-Charlotte mayor joins effort to end partisan redistricting in North Carolina

Published: 2014.05.28 08:30 AM

Vinroot

Vinroot

Robinson Bradshaw & Hinson

Richard Vinroot, Charlotte’s Republican mayor from 1991 to 1995, has publicly joined Democratic former Raleigh mayor Charles Meeker in an effort to end partisan gerrymandering in North Carolina.

It’s a tenured problem in this state. Both parties, here and elsewhere, are guilty of it. But it’s reached grotesque proportions under the current GOP leadership in the General Assembly, which has the authority to redraw congressional and legislative district lines after Census years. It’s led to absurdities such as the 12th Congressional District, which aWashington Post analysis recently showed is the most gerrymandered district in the nation. North Carolina also holds the fifth and seventh spots on the top 10 list.

I spoke with Vinroot last week about the group’s efforts. The following is an edited transcript of our conversation.

How’s the effort going so far?

Vinroot: About 30 to 40 mayors have signed on so far, but the people whose support we really need are the powerful people in the legislature, and understandably, these are folks who are friends of mine who have been out in the hinterlands for a lot of their careers when the Democrats had control, and they were then saying the same things I’m saying: “We need to change the system.” But now that they’ve gained control, they’re taking the same position their predecessors did. And I’m certainly sympathetic … But it’s the right thing to do, and I think that over time it’ll be better for everybody, because it will engender voter participation at all levels of government, and that’s a good thing.

How did this get started?

Vinroot: I can’t claim to be one of the founders of the idea. I was contacted several years ago by some folks in Raleigh who were coming down to talk about it, and they asked me if I would participate, and I said I would. I said, “If you want to continue to talk about it, I’d be interested.” They eventually called back and said, “Would you and Charles Meeker, a Democrat and a Republican, along with governors Hunt and Martin, a Democrat and a Republican, be willing to sign on in support of this idea?” I said I would.

Why?

Vinroot: Well, I think a lot of what’s wrong with American politics today can be blamed on gerrymandering. We have basically created districts that are all but a few decided in the primaries by extreme people of the left or right. That’s probably an overstatement, but it’s not too far off. As a result, people are being elected by maybe 10 or 15 percent of the population, who all share their views, because when they get to the general election, with all the gerrymandering that’s taken place, it creates districts where only representatives of the far right or left need apply. It’s a bad system, and it means when you get to Washington, out of 435 Congressional seats, maybe 35 of them are the product of real elections in the fall. The other 400 were nominated in primaries and had either no opposition or token opposition because the district was so tilted that the other party had no chance.

The outcome is that people don’t talk to each other and don’t negotiate and don’t have to, and they certainly don’t have to care what the majority of the people think because all they have to worry about is the small percentage of either Republicans or Democrats who nominated them in the primary. As long as they please those people, they’re home free. That makes no sense.

In and around Mecklenburg County, the 10 counties around Mecklenburg County, 70 percent of the people serving in the legislature were elected two weeks ago in a primary in which about 12 percent of the people [voted]. The other 30 percent will be elected in elections that for the most part aren’t really contested elections either. They’re simply elections in which somebody signed up on the other side, like somebody tilting at windmills and deciding, “Well, I’ll take her on or him on in the fall.” But by and large, we all know who will come out of those elections, just as we know that what happened in the primaries was pretty much the end of the ballgame.

There’s no sense in being naïve about it: Gerrymandering is something both parties have done through the years. Why now? What’s the urgency?

Vinroot: There’s no urgency. It’s just right. It’s no more urgent than it was 15 years ago. It was right then. It’s right now. I just think somebody ought to say that.

What are your specific goals?

Vinroot: The specifics are to persuade the legislature to permit a referendum on a constitutional amendment that would require that this provision be put in our constitution that requires that districts in the future be drawn in a nonpartisan way, so that both parties are … safe from meddling by the other party once the other party gains control, which is inevitable. I’m realistic. The Republicans are in control now, but that’s not going to last forever. It probably will last until the end of the decade because of the good gerrymandering that now protects our majority, just as it lasted for a number of decades because of the good gerrymandering of the Democratic majority. Both sides play the game really well …

Now, even if we did manage to get this through, it wouldn’t take effect for another six years, and by that time, who knows who’ll be in the majority? So both sides will have done something to protect themselves from the uncertainties of the future … so my folks, the Republicans, can have at it for the next six years in our gerrymandered districts and have a great advantages for the next six years. That’s a good thing, as far as I’m concerned. We’re in control, and we have the power to keep ourselves in control for another six years. Obviously, the voters can decide otherwise, but it’s not likely, the way the lines are drawn.

And presumably, under a nonpartisan redistricting system, the districts would make more geographic sense, and you wouldn’t have weird districts like the 12th Congressional, which is one of the most gerrymandered …

Vinroot: No, no, you’re wrong. It’s not “one of.” It’s the most. Recently, they had an analysis of districts across the nation, and it is number one. I always want my Tar Heels to be number one. We’ve got something in North Carolina I doubt we want to be number one in: the most perfectly gerrymandered district in the country, and we’ve got the most gerrymandered state in the nation in terms of our Congressional districts. I think the last time we had an election for Congress in North Carolina, 54 or 55 percent of the people voted for Democrats; however, because of the way the districts were gerrymandered, nine out of the 13 seats went to Republicans. We did a pretty good job of setting those things up so that we, a minority of voters, elected a strong majority of the Congressional seats …

You know, we teach our children to play fair, and this is really sort of the grown-up version of playing fair. We wouldn’t sit at the dinner table and tell our children, “This is the way you play your games at school: Set up an unfair advantage for yourself, then have a competition, and you win because you’ve set up an unfair competition for yourself.” We would never preach that to our children, but we certainly practice it ourselves. And I don’t think we would ever sit around the dinner table and brag to our children about the way our legislative gerrymandering system works. I think we’d like for them not to know that’s how it works …

OK, I think that’ll do it. I appreciate your talking to me this morning …

Vinroot: Well, let me give you a couple of little personal examples that come to my mind. My uncle Fred [Vinroot], who is now deceased, was the campaign manager back in 1952 for Mr. Charlie Jonas, who became our congressman here in the Ninth District. He was … one of two Republicans elected in the entire South that year; that was when Dwight Eisenhower was elected president.

For the next 20 years, Mr. Jonas went to Congress from Lincoln County, representing Mecklenburg County. During his 20 years, the Democrats in the legislature would try to rearrange his district to try to unseat Mr. Jonas, and they never succeeded …

What was interested about that is Mr. Jonas, every year, would drive his car from Lincolnton up to Washington, and he would stop in Tarboro and pick up Mr. L.H. Fountain, who was a Democratic congressman from Tarboro. Mr. Jonas and Mr. Fountain were friends in college and were both lawyers, and they liked each other. But they were conservatives, although they were from different parties. But they had a personal relationship.

Now fast-forward. I went to my college reunion last year at Chapel Hill, and one of my classmates is the wife of a congressman from eastern North Carolina, Martin Lancaster, who was there I think for 12 years. She was telling my wife Judy and me about going back a couple of years ago with Martin after he had left Congress six or eight years earlier and going into the Congressional Dining Room and going over to sit down with some old friends of theirs at a table, and it turns out several of those old friends were Republicans.

When they got up to leave, she said several of the current Democratic congressional wives chastised her and Martin for sitting at that table, “because we don’t associate with those people.” And I thought to myself, “How things have changed because of what has happened in Washington, the partisanship, and that I think is the result of the gerrymandered districts, that these people shouldn’t even sit down and have dinner or lunch together, whereas 50 or so years ago, they rode to Washington together. That’s a bad omen.

Extremes sell.

Vinroot: Yeah, you’re right. But we all bemoan the fact that not many people vote. Well, why would you go vote if the election has already been essentially determined by who gets to vote in that particular district? It doesn’t encourage you to go. I know exactly what’s going to happen in Robert Pittenger’s district this fall. I know. It doesn’t matter. I know how it’s going to turn out. That’s good for me—he’s a Republican, I’m a Republican—but I know that’s not right.

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Posted by on May 27, 2014

UNHEALTHY, GRIDLOCK-PRODUCING GERRYMANDERING IN NC NEEDS TO END

BY CHARLES MEEKER AND RICHARD VINROOT
May 22, 2014

 

Read about the initiative to end gerrymandering at nando.com/gerrymander.

As state lawmakers return to Raleigh to balance the budget and tackle a variety of other important issues, we commend our legislators for approaching their responsibilities with the best of intentions.

Everyone wants the same thing: a North Carolina that’s on course for a bright and prosperous future. How we get there is where sharp differences can emerge

Different ideas, different policies, different agendas are not such a bad thing. That’s to be expected in our state’s robust two-party system. When those differences can be resolved through thoughtful debate and a willingness to find common ground, our democracy works the way the Founding Fathers wanted it to.

Yet these days in both Raleigh and Washington, it is becoming increasingly difficult for both sides to work with each other, much less find common ground.

A big reason has to do with gerrymandering. When legislative and congressional districts are drawn to protect a political party and eliminate competition, lawmakers are less likely to work together and reach consensus. Compromise becomes a bad word. Civil discussions go out the window. The result is legislative gridlock in a toxic polarizing environment.

But we believe it doesn’t have to be that way.

The public yearns for legislative bodies to work with each other in a spirit of civility and respect. We believe most of our hard-working elected officials would in fact prefer such an environment as well.

So how do we get there? Ending gerrymandering is an important first step.

North Carolina needs to find a new way to draw our legislative and congressional districts that takes petty partisan politics out of the process.

Of course, both sides have done it over the years – to the victor goes the spoils. And if your side has the power of the pen, why not draw districts to benefit your party?

The reality is that most legislative and congressional races in North Carolina are overwhelmingly noncompetitive thanks to gerrymandering. Lawmakers arrive in Raleigh and Washington with little incentive to work with their counterparts on the other side. Without competition, the public has no reason to pay attention to political campaigns, the media have no reason to cover the issues and candidates have no reason to campaign or to fear being held accountable.

And that’s not healthy for democracy.

As former elected officials from different political parties, we recognize that ending gerrymandering is a much-needed reform to improve our democracy. That’s why we are leading a new coalition called North Carolinians to End Gerrymandering Now. We want to encourage the General Assembly to pass a redistricting reform bill next year that can be put on the ballot for public approval in 2016.

We applaud Wake County Rep. Paul “Skip” Stam, the Republican House speaker pro tem, and Cumberland County’s Rep. Rick Glazier, a Democrat, for their co-sponsorship of redistricting reform. House Bill 606 had 61 overall co-sponsors last year, so clearly there is bipartisan buy-in to end gerrymandering from leaders in each party. We the people just need to encourage the legislature as a whole to act next year.

For both political parties, ending gerrymandering is an insurance policy. Clearly in North Carolina, no political party will hold power forever. And when the next power-shift comes, the party out of power should not be marginalized to the sidelines without a voice. A nonpartisan redistricting process will provide fair, compact and more competitive districts.

Yes, some of us may be coming late to the party on ending gerrymandering. But gerrymandering was wrong in the past, and it’s wrong now.

We believe a 21st century process – free of politics – would produce districts that elect folks more willing to work with one another and would boost both civility and productivity in Raleigh and Washington.

And that’s what our democracy needs.

Richard Vinroot served as Charlotte mayor from 1991 to 1995. Charles Meeker served as Raleigh mayor from 2001 to 2011.

 

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Posted by on May 19, 2014

MEEKER, VINROOT LEAD A WELCOME PUSH FOR NONPARTISAN REDISTRICTING

From the Raleigh News and Observer
May 17, 2014

As lawmakers returned to Raleigh last week, so did the air of political conflict. Protesters beat pots and pans outside the Legislative Building, teachers demonstrated for more pay and Republican lawmakers quickly drew up new rules to control the Moral Monday protests that will resume this week.

Yet for all the passion that arises over ideology and issues in Raleigh, the electoral landscape is serene. Nearly half the 170 members of the General Assembly will stand for re-election this fall without a challenger. Few, if any of the state’s 13 congressional districts will be truly contested.

We live now in a state of suspended democracy. How voters feel overall has little to do with who gets elected – or even challenged. Some of this is the fault of citizens who don’t vote – a choice Republicans are encouraging by making the process more inconvenient. But mostly it is because of the cynical inversion of gerrymandering that enables politicians to pick their voters.

Fortunately, former Raleigh Mayor Charles Meeker and former Charlotte Mayor Richard Vinroot are leading an effort to revive the democratic process. They’ve formed a group called North Carolinians to End Gerrymandering Now and are campaigning for fundamental changes in the way voting districts are drawn.

“Gerrymandering means you don’t have meaningful elections,” Meeker said.

The push for nonpartisan redistricting has picked up the support of 40 mayors. Though some Republican leaders of the General Assembly are cool to the idea, one leading House Republican, Rep. Paul “Skip” Stam of Apex, has not wavered in his longtime support for the reform he first proposed in 1989.

At a voters forum on nonpartisan redistricting, he said, “It gives you a bigger choice and it doesn’t insulate somebody with a lot seniority from a challenge. Our current system lets people with a lot of seniority get maps drawn for their benefit.”

Meeker, a Democrat, and Vinroot, a Republican, are urging state lawmakers to put a state constitutional amendment on the 2016 ballot calling for a nonpartisan redistricting system. Meeker says the time to weigh the change is during the 2015 long session because lawmakers will be less threatened since the 2020 election will be five years away and the winning party uncertain. If approved, the new system would take effect when voting maps are redrawn after the 2020 census.

With Republicans in full control of state government, a campaign that asks them to put their power at risk in the name of fairness seems both idealistic and doomed. But somehow it must succeed, and it can if enough people shake off their sense of futility and demand change. A Public Policy Polling survey this month found that 45 percent support nonpartisan redistricting with only 18 percent opposed; the rest had no opinion.

The noncompetitive effects of gerrymandered districts afflict the entire nation. Officer-holders who have no fear of losing an election have no incentive to moderate their views, compromise on laws or listen to those they disagree with. But the problem is particularly acute in North Carolina.

Of course, Democrats drew districts in their favor during their many decades in power. But it has never been done with the audacity or efficiency of the Republicans in 2011. After more than a century out of power, the GOP took full advanrage of its chance to draw the lines. Their handiwork flipped the state’s congressional delegation from 7-6 in favor of the Democrats to 9-4 in favor of Republicans. It also turned the once lonely and neglected Republican presence in the General Assembly into lopsided majorities in the House and Senate. Last week, an analysis by the Washington Post’s Wonkblog found North Carolina to be one of the nation’s most gerrymandered states.

The GOP redistricting maps face a legal challenge, but Republicans were as careful about staying within the letter of the law as they were in threading lines through precincts. Changing the map-making process will depend on their willingness to let others draw democracy.

Read more here: http://www.newsobserver.com/2014/05/17/3869078/meeker-vinroot-lead-a-welcome.html?sp=/99/108/158/#storylink=cpy

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