Commentary, News

LGBT discrimination update: Washington Guv bans travel to NC; Gerrymandering insulates HB2 supporters

Developments surrounding the biggest policy story in North Carolina in 2016 continue to pour in. Here are two more:

#1 – The Governor of Washington state has banned state travel to North Carolina. According to AP:

#2 – Meanwhile, advocates at Common Cause NC point out that North Carolina’s ridiculously gerrymandered legislative maps insulate the legislative supporters of the new discrimination law given that “90% of the lawmakers supporting the bill are either running uncontested in November or won their last election by a double-digit margin” (i.e. they were elected in a gerrymandered district).  Learn more on this subject by visiting Common Cause’s Facebook page and/or signing their petition at www.endgerrymanderingnow.

Commentary

You can’t make this up: Gerrymandered congressional map splits campus at nation’s largest HBCU

[Cross-posted from Common Cause North Carolina.]

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Students at NC A&T State University, the nation’s largest historically black college or university, recently spoke out against new congressional voting maps that leave their campus split into two districts.

Last month, a federal court ruled that Republican lawmakers had racially gerrymandered two of the state’s 13 congressional districts and ordered lawmakers to redraw those district lines. Legislative leaders responded with some dramatic changes to the state’s congressional maps and openly declared that their chief aim was to craft districts that would favor their own party.

“I acknowledge freely that this would be a political gerrymander, which is not against the law,” Rep. David Lewis (R-Harnett) told the redistricting committee that he co-chairs.

While Republican legislators claim that race played no part in this latest round of redistricting, the new maps divide NC A&T’s campus of over 10,000 students – a majority of whom are African-American – into the 6th or 13th districts. According to the students that spoke out last week, the split could dilute the voting power of the campus community and cause Election Day confusion at the polls.

“With this university being split into two congressional districts, it undermines and diminishes its political influence and its lobbying power,” said Aleecia Sutton, a student at NC A&T State University and a Democracy Fellow with Common Cause North Carolina.

Nhawndie Smith said dividing the campus could discourage her fellow A&T students from casting a ballot. “How can I vote knowing that my vote won’t even have power?” Smith said.

The new congressional maps could face additional judicial scrutiny. But regardless of the outcome in the court case, Dominique Sanders of Common Cause North Carolina says there is one sure way to protect all voters from gerrymandering: moving to an independent system of redistricting.

“We’ve got to get partisan politics out of the redistricting process,” Sanders said.

Commentary

Today’s redistricting “must reads”

If you’re like most people, you could probably spend your whole day trying to get a handle on the morass that is North Carolina’s six-year-old redistricting mess, but in the interest of time, here is one news story and one brief commentary that tells you most of what you need to know:

Number One is Sharon McCloskey’s front page story from the main NC Policy Watch site, “The redistricting roadmap.” In it, Sharon explains the three pending redistricting court challenges that could all be on their way to the U.S. Supreme Court. Here’s an excerpt:

The state court challenge to the 2011 legislative and congressional voting maps, Dickson v. Rucho, is already headed to the U.S. Supreme Court, after justices here upheld the redistricting plan for a second time this past December and later denied the challengers’ request for reconsideration.

The federal challenge to congressional districts (specifically districts 1 and 12), Harris v. McCrory, continues following the three-judge panel’s ruling in early February that the districts were unconstitutional racial gerrymanders. While the General Assembly then redrew the congressional map to meet the court’s February 18 deadline, the state asked the U.S. Supreme Court to stay the panel’s ruling pending appeal and in advance of the then-scheduled March 15 primaries. The high court denied that request for a stay, and lawmakers have reset congressional primaries for June 7.

The question now before the three-judge panel is whether the new congressional map passes constitutional muster. Legislative leaders directed that new map to be drawn without any consideration of race — an instruction that plan challengers and some legal experts say renders the new voting districts suspect. Those challengers have asked the federal judges to expedite their review of the second map and, if necessary, adopt a new plan of the court’s own making.

And coming up right behind the congressional case is the federal challenge to 25 state legislative districts (nine House and 16 Senate), Covington v. North Carolina – set for a week-long trial before a different three-judge panel beginning April 11. That panel refused in November to stay the March primaries pending consideration of the case, saying only that to do so at that late date would disrupt the election cycle.

Number Two is this excellent and insightful letter to the editor that appeared in last Saturday’s edition of Raleigh’s News & Observer by retired N.C. State Professor and current Common Cause NC board member, Larry King, that highlights the absurdity of our situation as well as the ever-more-obvious solution:

Regarding the Feb. 19 news article “Congressional primaries could be reset to June 7”: North Carolina just trounced Iowa in the Gerrymander Super Bowl, 18-0! Read more

Commentary

Right-wing website questions whether congressional map machinations are designed to help Phil Berger, Jr.

Berger_Jr.-and-Sr.There are many reasons to take the often-venomous claims made on the right-wing website known as the Daily Haymaker with a large grain of salt. That said, the person behind it — a fellow named Brant Clifton — clearly has connections inside the House and Senate Republican caucuses at the General Assembly and is more than happy to use the site to blast GOP powers that be.

This morning, Clifton published a story in which he offers a plausible explanation for some of the puzzling details of the new congressional map emerging on Jones Street. When Clifton connects the dots, he concludes that the new 6th district is tailor-made for Phil Berger, Jr.

Not only has the map been drawn in such a way that the current 6th District Representative, Mark Walker (the guy who beat Berger in a bitter 2014 primary), can now run in the redrawn 13th, but the honorables are also advancing a new law that makes clear that one can run in the June congressional primary even if one has already secured a nomination for another office in the March primary. This would benefit Berger, Jr. who is running for the Court of Appeals in March.

This is the conclusion to the post:

“If all of those chips fall into place, and Berger files for the 6th in a June primary, he has a fallback. Junior is challenging Judge Linda Stephens for her seat on the Court of Appeals.  Under this new rule, he could still file for the 6th congressional district while remaining a candidate for the Court of Appeals.  If he wins the congressional primary in June, he has to choose whether he wants to go forward to November as a congressional candidate or judicial candidate.

IF this chaos was initiated for the purpose of obtaining gainful employment for Phil Berger, Jr., it’s an outrage.  (Of course, according to the legislation, this all goes out the window if the Supreme Court should overturn or stay the lower court’s ruling on our current districts.)  

Let’s see if Junior steps up to file for Congress. (Or if any ”honorables” from Jones Street do the same.) 

Once again, it shows that no matter which party you put in charge — the main focus is self-promotion and self-preservation at the expense of the rest of us.”

We (and, no doubt, a lot of other folks) will be  watching closely. You can read Clifton’s entire post by clicking here.

Commentary

Expert: New map is just the latest byproduct of NC’s “disastrous and disorganized” system

If you want to understand how absurd North Carolina’s gerrymandering debacle has gotten check out a pair of news articles.

As Think Progress reported here, House redistricting boss David Lewis publicly admitted that the new maps are a political gerrymander:

“Our intent is to use the political data we have to our partisan advantage,” Rep. David Lewis (R-Harnett) told the Joint Select Committee on Congressional Redistricting on Tuesday. “I acknowledge freely that this would be a political gerrymander which is not against the law.”

Meanwhile, as WRAL.com reported here, nonpartisan experts are dismissing the new maps as absurd:

Mark Nance, an assistant professor in North Carolina State University’s School of Public and International Affairs, said North Carolina perpetually ranks first or second worst in the nation for gerrymandering.

“This is the result of a fairly disastrous and disorganized system of redistricting that’s been in place for way too many years here in North Carolina,” Nance said Wednesday.

How’s that for a “quick fix” after our congressional maps were struck down and declared constitutional? An admitted political gerrymander that’s dismissed by an expert as “disastrous and disorganized.”

All in all, it sounds like another week of business as usual in North Carolina’s right-wing General Assembly.