Commentary

Editorial decries “inane,” noncompetitive districts produced by GOP gerrymandering in NC

In case you missed it, one of the best editorials of the weekend appeared in Sunday’s Wilmington Star News. It is entitled “Twists and turns of gerrymandering.”

After explaining how conservative leaders in the General Assembly went beyond the usual excesses of partisan map making to unlawfully pack African-American voters into two congressional districts, the editors say this:

“It’s a shame we didn’t clean this up when we had a chance. In fact, Republicans used to be great foes of gerrymandering —  back before 2010, when Democrats did it to them….

Gerrymandering is bad. It insulates incumbents from competition and voter ire; 30 percent of North Carolina legislative races, for example, drew only one candidate since the districts were tailor-made for just one party. The closest congressional race in North Carolina was decided by a 15-percentage point margin.

Gerrymandering also creates inane districts that make sense only to a politico. The 12th congressional district is the worst, but Rep. Walter Jones’s 3rd District runs from the Virginia line to downtown Wilmington. We suspect Rep. Jones seldom has Wilmington on his mind.

By creating single-party districts, gerrymandering promotes partisan extremism, which helps lead to gridlock in Raleigh and Washington. The system seldom promotes centrists and compromisers.

One hopes the high court can clean up this mess. It would have been nice if we could have done this on our own.”

Commentary

Major papers: Time for lawmakers to come to their senses on redistricting

Senator Bob Rucho

Senator Bob Rucho

Phil Berger

Sen. Phil Berger

Both of North Carolina’s two largest newspapers are featuring editorials this morning calling on the state’s Republican legislative leaders to abandon their destructive and illegal redistricting scheme.

Here’s Raleigh’s News & Observer:

As a constitutional scholar, Republican state Sen. Bob Rucho of Matthews is a good dentist (his actual profession). The same goes for his skills as an architect of congressional and legislative district maps.

Now, thanks to blatant gerrymandering of the state’s congressional districts – something Republicans knew they were doing when they drew new Republican-flavored maps after the 2010 census – North Carolina is in a legal mess. A federal judges’ panel has ruled that two congressional districts, the 1st and the 12th, are unconstitutional because of racial gerrymandering to reduce the influence of black voters by packing them into certain districts….

Rucho says the ruling could throw elections ‘into chaos.’ It was he and his Republican mates on Jones Street who tempted chaos. Osteen seemed to repudiate the senator’s view.

There now are five federal lawsuits involving North Carolina’s voting maps and challenges to voting suppression laws such as voter ID, along with the absurd redrawing of district lines for the Greensboro City Council and the Wake County school board. All because Republicans in power couldn’t resist the temptation to put the fix in on elections to help preserve their power.

And this is from the Charlotte Observer in an editorial that also derides the legislature’s heavy handed attempted power grab vis a vis the Governor:

“When a parent reprimands a child for bad behavior, the child has a choice: Straighten up and fly right, or dig in and double down.

Ten days ago, six of North Carolina’s seven Supreme Court justices (three Republicans, three Democrats) agreed that the legislature had overstepped its authority by giving itself, rather than the governor, appointment power over executive-branch commissions.

Exactly one week later, three federal judges on Friday agreed that the legislature had passed an unconstitutionally gerrymandered map of congressional districts.

These are distinct cases, but in each multiple judges found that the legislature acted unconstitutionally in wielding its power.”

The editorial goes on to call on legislative leaders to confirm McCrory appointees they’ve been holding hostage and, even more importantly, to abandon their commitment to gerrymandering and to move to enact nonpartisan redistricting: Read more

Commentary

It’s time to delay the March primary

gerrymanderingMoving the 2016 primary from its normal date in May to March was always a lousy idea — one that was motivated as much by the desire to protect incumbents and the state’s conservative legislature as it was to make a North Carolina a “player” in national presidential politics. Now, with Friday’s federal court ruling striking down the state’s congressional map as racially gerrymandered, the time has come for state leaders to admit their error and start over. Cancel the March primary. Redraw the maps fairly and reschedule the election for May — or even later. (Heck, the state legislative maps were outrageously gerrymandered as well). We’ve had a state primary in the summer before and things went just fine. Rushing now to barrel ahead with a primary in March (at least in the non-presidential races) would be a travesty.

And speaking of Friday’s ruling, be sure to check out the following statement from good government watchdog Bob Hall at Democracy North Carolina:

Don’t Blame Those Who Exposed Computerized Apartheid
Statement from Bob Hall, Democracy North Carolina, regarding ruling on Congressional district maps

We congratulate the team of attorneys and researchers at the Southern Coalition for Social Justice who have skillfully challenged North Carolina’s racially gerrymandered political districts! The panel of federal judges agreed that NC legislative leaders used race as the “nonnegotiable criterion” for how the boundary lines were drawn for Congressional Districts 1 and 12. Black and white voters were carefully segregated on the assumption that black voters uniformly voted against the Republican mapmakers’ interests and therefore needed to be packed together and isolated to restrict their political influence. Read more

Commentary

Candidate filings set up another flawed election year

[Bill Wilson, the Deputy Director of the North Carolina Justice Center and a veteran observer of state politics, recently examined at the candidate filings for the 2016 elections. As explained in the essay below, his findings once again document the need for electoral reform.]

BillWilsonAsk Santa for a better democracy
By Bill Wilson

With the holiday season in full swing, not a lot of North Carolinians are paying much attention to the recently concluded candidate filings for the North Carolina General Assembly. Sadly, they probably have other good reasons not to be too excited. A look at the results indicates that many candidates got an early holiday gift this year by being elected to the legislature a full 11 months prior to Election Day and without actually having to run.

Of the 50 districts in the state Senate, 13 people have been elected even before the early March primary – that’s 26 per cent of the entire Senate. After the primary, only 35 of the Senate’s districts will have an election in November.

Voters for seats in the state House suffer a similar fate. Of the 120 seats in the House, voters in 40 districts (one-third of all seats) will have no choice as to who will represent them in 2017, again even before the March primary. After the primary, candidates in 46 of the 120 seats will already be decided.

Overall, of the 170 seats in the NC legislature, 53, or almost a third, will be decided before any election takes place. After the March primary election, 61 seats will be determined before the November general election, and frankly, many if not most of these races are not really competitive.

While this is a sad statement for our democracy in North Carolina, voters shouldn’t be surprised since incumbency continues to offer a clear advantage — particularly with respect to fundraising and the gerrymandered districts that will provide voters with only a few competitive November contests.

Another sad fact is that it appears that less than 25% of all candidates who filed will be women.

Of course, it doesn’t have to be this way. Four different  bills were introduced last year in both the state House and state Senate (some with bipartisan support) that would change the way the districts are drawn – taking power away from the legislators who have incentives for self-preservation and party control and giving it to an independent redistricting commission that would develop districts that the legislature could vote up or down, but could not change.

Some proposals would put this process into play after the 2020 census; another would put it off until 2030. One, House Bill 92, even has 63 House sponsors – enough to pass the bill on the House floor. Unfortunately, for legislative leaders, this is apparently too soon for their liking since none of these bills were considered in the 2015 long session.

A recent news report claimed that the redistricting process was “in for a big rewrite in 2020,” but unless the state moves toward drawing districts without regard to incumbency and party control, real change is unlikely. Instead, we’ll continue to see abysmal candidate filing statistics like the ones above — with those candidates who do file often beholden to far right and far left constituencies and that will continue the political polarization that exists in our General Assembly.

This year, let’s ask Santa for legislative districts in which  voters have real choices in who they want to represent them, and where the quality of candidates and their positions on issues will decide elections instead of districts designed to elect one particular party or the other.

Better yet – let’s ask the General Assembly to pass this legislation!

Happy holidays!

News

SCOTUS issues first redistricting opinion

Supreme courtIn record speed, the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled in the first of four redistricting cases currently on its October 2015 docket, holding in Shapiro v. McManus that, unless a single federal district court judge finds the complaint at issue “constitutionally insubstantial,” a redistricting lawsuit should be handled by a three-judge panel, as required under the Three-Judge Court Act.

“‘Constitutional insubstantiality’ for this purpose has been equated with such concepts as ‘essentially fictitious,’ ‘wholly insubstantial,’ ‘obviously frivolous,’ and ‘obviously without merit,’”  Justice Antonin Scalia wrote for the court.

“And the adverbs were no mere throwaways;  the limiting words ‘wholly’ and ‘obviously’ have cogent legal significance. Without expressing any view on the merits of petitioners’ claim, we believe it easily clears [this] low bar.”

Attorneys argued the case before the high court on November 4.

The full opinion is here.

For more on the background of  the McManus case, read this post by Bloomberg’s Kimberly Robinson.

For more on the redistricting cases at the high court, read here.