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redistricting_mapMicah Khater, a previous contributor to N.C. Policy Watch and a Caldwell Fellow in the University Honors Program at N.C. State University majoring in History and French, recently authored the following interesting essay on the efforts of state lawmakers to impose new electoral maps in Wake and Guilford Counties:

Echoes of North Carolina’s dark past
By Micah Khater

Our politicians often try to resurrect images of the past in order to justify present decisions. For many, history can have a political purpose: it can be used to uphold conservative ideals of American tradition while omitting the imperfections of our past. But this version of history is fraught with errors and grossly oversimplified. If we submit to the desires of those who wish to erase the flaws of our history, we will lose the hindsight necessary to fully evaluate present public policy.

As I was listening to the recent controversy over the General Assembly’s proposal to redistrict the Wake County Commission and Greensboro City Council, I found myself reflecting on a story that sounded eerily similar.

It was 1934. Franklin Delano Roosevelt was in the midst of enacting major legislation as a part of his New Deal. White Democrats maintained a choke-hold on the South. It’s important to remember that “Democrats” and “Republicans” of the early Twentieth Century were not what they are today. Although FDR was a Democrat, and often strived to appeal to southern lawmakers, his New Deal legislation threatened the racial and economic hierarchy enforced by the Democratic Party of the South. Anxieties ran high among North Carolina Democrats who worried that the New Deal might accelerate labor movements. Even though they singlehandedly controlled all state-level politics, the Democrats worried about a few renegade counties in the western part of North Carolina.

Wilkes County was one of those Republican strongholds. There were only a handful of counties in the western part of the state, like Wilkes, that had not yet disenfranchised African American voters, most likely because of their historic support for the GOP in a Democratic-majority state. Read More

Commentary

redistricting_mapWell, that didn’t take long. When Democrats swept the Wake County Board of Commissioners in last fall’s election, more than one wag opined that it wouldn’t take long before the GOP-dominated General Assembly would find a way to abolish the Board.

Things haven’t gone that far…yet. But as we’ve found out in the last 48 hours, conservative leaders in the state Senate have no plans to be shy in altering local election results that displease them.

On Thursday, the Senate  Redistricting Committee examined a pair of bills to alter the way voters elect county commissioners in Wake County and city council members in Greensboro. The Wake County bill was considered just a day after it was introduced.

Let’s hope the overwhelmingly negative response the bills have spurred from the public cause the senators to think twice. As the Greensboro News & Record noted in an editorial blasting the bill impacting Greensboro yesterday, even Gov. McCrory is sending signal that the bills go too far:

“The idea that the state should dictate Greensboro’s local governing structure contradicts the leeway granted by law to all other cities and counties.

While not referring specifically to Wade’s proposal, Republican Gov. Pat McCrory expressed an important principle Tuesday:

‘Let me put it this way: As governor I constantly have to fight Washington not to interfere. I think the same philosophy applies to Raleigh interfering with local governments.’

Members of the Senate Redistricting Committee, most of them Republicans and none of whom represents any part of Guilford County, should keep that principle in mind when Wade asks them to approve her bill today.”

Unfortunately, if past performance is any indication, Senate conservatives have little interest in principle when it comes to redistricting (or the Governor when it comes to just about anything).

The Committee plans to vote on the matters next Tuesday. It’s unclear at this point whether additional public testimony will be allowed. For Wake County residents, the legislative delegation from Wake will apparently have an open meeting on Monday at 3:00 pm in Room 1124 of the Legislative Building.

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Concerned parents and citizens packed a Monday evening meeting of Wake County lawmakers to unanimously express their opposition for two bills that would effectively weaken the power of the Wake County school board. More than 100 people signed up to speak about both the education bills and Senate Bill 334, legislation that would tear up the state’s contract with Raleigh for the Dorothea Dix campus.

Sponsored by Sen. Neal Hunt (R-Wake), who came to the meeting late and left early, SB 236 would seize control of school facilities and construction from the Wake County school board and give that control to the county commissioners. Supporters of the bill say that this will allow the school board to focus on education and not have to worry about business matters; opponents say the construction of school facilities is directly related to the education programs that serve students and control should remain with the school board.

In opposition to SB 236, Raleigh citizen Lynn Edmonds said “school programming is directly related to school facilities. What teachers do and what goes on in the classroom is closely tied to the design of school buildings.”

“It is the school board, not the commissioners, who have great experience in designing and building high quality schools for Wake County,” explained Edmonds.

SB 325, which would overturn the most recent school board election, has “retribution all over it,” said one concerned citizen. The bill would redraw districts, which were just redrawn in 2011, and change when school board members are elected, forcing some current members from their seats early. Senators Hunt and Barefoot sponsored the bill.

The chair of the League of Women Voters, Mary Martorella, explained to lawmakers that “SB 325 would change election district boundaries and the way school board members are elected. The League believes these actions defy principles of democracy.”

An advocate for fair elections, Anita Earls, also voiced her concern for the redistricting bill. “Current districts are not unconstitutional nor do they violate the Fair Voting Act. I believe SB 325, as written, is unconstitutional.

Two former Wake School Board members rose to speak of the partisan politics that dominate the school board today, noting that in the past politics were kept out of decisions affecting the education of Wake school children. Citizen John Reader said that SB 325 was simply a “power grab to put the GOP in control again. It is retribution for dismissing Tata,” referring to Tony Tata, the former superintendent of Wake County schools.

Two hours was not enough time to address the concerns of all who were in attendance. The next meeting of the Wake delegation will take place in two weeks.

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It doesn’t happen often, so relish the chance to say the following: Rick Martinez, the arch-conservative columnist for Raleigh’s News & Observer is right — or, at least , mostly.  

Martinez’ column this morning rightfully takes the General Assembly to task for its absurd meddling in the business of local governments — most notably the ridiculous plans to rig the elections for the Wake County School Board and cancel the Dix Park deal.  

While the column is far from perfect — Martinez slices the baloney too thin and attempts to distiguish between the election rigging plan and the equally absurd effort to give Wake Commissioners control over school facilities and also includes inaccurate digs at the current school board’s policies and the substance of the Dix deal — it’s on the money on the basic premise.

Let’s hope his friends on the far right aren’t too drunk with power to pay attention.

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Kieran ShanahanYou know things are sliding pretty far right when one of the truest, conservative fire-breathers can’t satisfy the people running things at the General Assembly.

As reported here last week and by lots of other news outlets, conservatives at the General Assembly are pushing legislation to seize control of the Wake County Board of Education (along with several other insufficiently compliant local governmental bodies) by reducing the Board’s authority and rigging its electoral districts and election schedule. Indeed, according to conservative school board member John Tedesco, more such proposals are on the way.

Here, however, is one of the more ironic aspects of this whole shameful set of affairs: the Wake County district maps in question — the ones being redrawn again because the Right doesn’t like the board they produced — were drawn by conservative lawyer, long-time Locke Foundation patron and current McCrory administration official, Kieran Shanahan. Read More