Commentary, News

Greensboro considers legal options following ‘political revenge’ redistricting bill

The Greensboro City Council holds a special meeting this evening to discuss whether to legally challenge House Bill 263. The controversial bill that dramatically changes the council’s district boundaries was pushed through the House last week after a major rewrite and little notice to the public. Critics of the bill said at the very least the redistricting plan should have been put to a vote of the people.

Legislators who initially opposed the bill, only to switch their vote after some closed-door negotiating won the ire of Greensboro News & Record columnist Susan Ladd.

Ladd writes in Wednesday’s paper that citizens should resist, rally, and vote against those who supported a bill motivated by the personal ‘revenge” of Senator Trudy Wade.

gboroWade’s redistricting bill, which overwhelmingly was opposed by Greensboro voters and a bipartisan majority in the N.C. House, nonetheless became law last week after an all-out assault on democracy that included arm-twisting, dirty dealing and a stunning betrayal.

The bill, which started as Senate Bill 36, radically restructured the city council with no public input or prompting. It eliminated at-large representation, took away the mayor’s vote, redrew districts to separate neighborhoods and put sitting representatives in the same district.

With SB 36 blocked in the House by the Elections Committee, Wade dumped the provisions of her original bill into HB 263, a redistricting bill for the city of Trinity that had passed the House. An initial vote by the House to concur on the expanded bill was rejected soundly, 73-35, which sent it to a joint House-Senate committee stacked with Wade’s supporters.

What emerged two days later was even worse. It divided the city into eight districts that would ensure that three of the six sitting council members — including two of the four black representatives — will lose their seats because they will be facing each other in the same district.

This is particularly rich in irony when you recall that Wade claimed her original bill would increase minority representation.

Now in the same district are Democrats Yvonne Johnson and Jamal Fox, Sharon Hightower and Justin Outling, and Mike Barber and Nancy Hoffmann. Democrat Marikay Abuzuaiter is now in a heavily Republican district.

The only council member left untouched is Tony Wilkins, the council’s only Republican, who said he couldn’t support the bill without a voters referendum, then went to Raleigh to speak in favor of it.

The reconstructed HB 263 passed Thursday largely because Rep. Jon Hardister (R-Greensboro) turned his back on his constituents. After saying flatly for months that he wouldn’t support the bill without a referendum, he reversed his position to support the bill, taking many other votes with him.

When this bill failed, 53-50, the Republican leadership called a recess to strong-arm more votes, providing a large enough margin of supporters that Hardister could vote against the bill when it was meaningless to do so.

Let’s be clear about this: Hardister said he wouldn’t support the bill without a voter referendum, and he broke his word. He supported HB 263 when it mattered the most and only switched his vote when it wouldn’t change the outcome.

Hardister said he switched his vote the final time because he felt the process was moving too fast. The time to do that would have been the first vote of the day, because the rest of the House had been given less than 24 hours to review the new eight district map and other provisions of the bill.

Hardister caved when it counted, either to increase his power with fellow Republicans or because he didn’t have the courage to stand against them.

Either way, he’s done.

Hardister has shown what he’s made of, and it isn’t what we need in a state representative. Given more time in office, he will become just another Rep. John Faircloth (R-High Point), the go-with-the-party Republican who supported Wade’s bill from the outset, even though his position directly contradicted his earlier actions on a bill about High Point.

Or Hardister could become another Trudy Wade, who puts her own personal need for power over the will of her constituents.

We, the voters of Greensboro, need to respond accordingly, with short-term and long-term goals.

First, we need to urge the city to challenge this bill in court.

Its redistricting aspects likely violate the Voting Rights Act by packing black voters into two districts.

It also makes Greensboro the only city in North Carolina that can’t change its own form of government, which violates state statutes outlining the power of cities to create and change their forms of government.

Beyond that, it blatantly contradicts the U.S. and N.C. constitutions, which clearly say that government derives its power from the people — not the other way around.

Trudy Wade should have to show cause for why Greensboro should lose its right to self-government — something she has refused to do since the plan was introduced.

She should have to do it in a court of law, where her falsehoods about the current council can be refuted in front of a judge, who presumably would pay more attention to the facts than her Republican colleagues.

If we let this bill stand, we will lose fair representation on a board that decides issues closest to our everyday lives.

If we let this bill stand, no city in North Carolina is safe.

If we let this bill stand, we might as well let Sen. Phil Berger (R-Rockingham) elect himself supreme monarch, with Wade as his second in command.

Which brings me to our long-term response: rally and vote.

Wade put herself in the crosshairs with this bill. Voters need to pull the trigger at the voting booth and send her home.

Hardister has shown that the will of his constituents is not his first concern. He needs to go.

Faircloth betrayed Greensboro’s voters to maintain his power within the legislature. He needs to go.

But first and foremost, Berger needs to be voted out of office. He has become so powerful that he can impose his will on any constituency in the state. He has used this power for his own ends, not for the people of Rockingham County or for the good of the state at large.

The power of the vote is precious, and it is being curtailed in both small and large measures by the Republican Party using methods that even Republican Gov. Pat McCrory acknowledged as shameful. We must use it now, while we still have it, to preserve what little voice we have left in government.

Read Ladd’s full column here. Tonight’s meeting gets underway at 5:30 p.m. at Greensboro City Council, 300 W. Washington St., Greensboro.

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