House Democratic Leader Darren Jackson was grilled by Republicans for over an hour after introducing an amendment to adopt an alternative map created by the plaintiffs in North Carolina v. Covington, the racial gerrymandering case dictating the redraw.
In presenting the alternative map, Jackson said he believed it corrected many of the old mistakes and new mistakes Republicans made in the redistricting process. He made clear that he did not draw the map, and therefore couldn’t answer all technical questions, but said he would answer what he could.
Republicans alleged that the map was “Democratically gerrymandered,” unnecessarily double-bunked good party members and violated a state Supreme Court ruling that dictates Whole County Provisions.
Rep. Nelson Dollar (R-Wake), who co-chaired the meeting, criticized Jackson when he couldn’t answer a question about the motives behind double-bunking in the alternative map.
“You offer an amendment and yet you want to take ownership but don’t want to take ownership,” he said.
Members of both the House and Senate redistricting committee meetings were provided both alternative maps and a letter from the Covington plaintiffs Wednesday. The letter explained constitutional defects in the GOP proposed maps and offered to answer questions members might have about the alternative maps — which the plaintiffs also said during the last court hearing they intended to introduce.
Another point of contention during the meeting was the GOP criteria not to use any racial data to redraw legislative maps.
“I do not believe totally ignoring race is the way you fix racial gerrymanders,” Jackson said.
Rep. Bert Jones (R-Caswell, Rockingham) pointed out that the General Assembly currently has more African American members than ever before.
“Racial gerrymandering isn’t about electing a higher number of African Americans,” Jackson responded. “It’s about giving African Americans the ability to elect candidates of their choice in more areas.”
Similarly, Rep. Cecil Brockman (D-Guilford) told his colleagues that while there are more African American legislators, they have less power and less influence because of racial gerrymandering.
The amendment ultimately failed along party lines, with a 15-26 vote.
Two other amendments also failed — one by Rep. Michael Speciale (R-Beaufort, Craven, Pamlico) to fix his districts (in which he is double-bunked in the new map) and one by Rep. Howard J. Hunter III (D-Bertie, Gates, Hertford, Pasquotank) to change his districts so as not to split Bertie and Hertford counties.
An technical amendment by Jackson was approved.
The overall GOP proposed House legislative map, which featured some changes since the original was released over the weekend, was passed 25-16, with Speciale voting outside of his party.
Meanwhile, over in the Senate, the proposed legislative map that was debated and passed in committee last night was approved in a second reading 27-16.
The nearly four hours of debate followed the pattern of Thursday’s discussion, with Democrats arguing Republican designed maps do not sufficiently address the problem of racial gerrymandering.
Republican legislative leaders have emphasized that race was not taken into account at all in the drawing of the new maps — a position that Democrats argued is a wrong-headed reaction to the court’s finding that the GOP overused it previously.
“When you are looking at a case that was based upon an unconstitutional racial gerrymandering, it is impossible to come up with a cure without considering race or by doing it in a vacuum,” said Sen. Floyd McKissick (D-Durham).
Sen. Ralph Hise, chairman of the Senate’s redistricting committee, said Democratic objections were just sour grapes from the minority party.
“They’ve found an argument about how race is used and we’ve addressed that argument by not using it at all,” he said. “But they’re still upset because they didn’t get everything they wanted in the urban areas, which requires total domination in those areas.”
Democrats can’t win in the state with their “far left message,” Hise said, adding that they would rather change the maps than their political positions.
Sen. Angela Bryant (D-Nash) took exception to that.
“What I care about in this proposal and in the case against racial gerrymandering is racial gerrymandering in order to promote far right ideas,” Bryant said.
Her rural area is home to plaintiffs in the lawsuit against the previous maps, Bryant said, and their concern is not Democratic power in urban areas or a left wing agenda.
“It’s fighting against the racial prejudice that we feel in our communities,” she said.
The House redistricting committee will review the proposed Senate legislative map next week. The House as a whole will take a floor vote on the proposed House legislative map Monday.
Joe Killian of NC Policy Watch contributed to this report.