The Daily Tar Heel

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Sunday February 5th

New House Seat Adds To Redistricting Battle

Census figures released just before the new year stated that North Carolina's population grew by 21 percent over the last decade, giving the state an additional seat in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Congressional redistricting is done by committees appointed in each of the houses of the N.C. General Assembly, said Rob Lamme, a spokesman for Senate President Pro-Tem Marc Basnight.

Thad Beyle, UNC political science professor, said what future congressional districts will look like depends on who directs the redistricting committees -- Democrats or Republicans. The committee heads will be appointed by the leaders in each chamber of the N.C. General Assembly.

Beyle said the Democrats' comfortable majority in the Senate will ensure that a Democrat will head the redistricting committee in the Senate.

But Beyle said the fate of current House Speaker Jim Black, D-Mecklenburg, is uncertain because several black Democrats have complained that Black is too conservative. Beyle said the potential Democratic split could undo the Democrats' narrow four-seat majority in the House, giving the House a Republican speaker and possibly a Republican chairman of the House redistricting committee.

Neither Lamme nor Danny Lineberry, a spokesman for Black, would say for certain who would be on committees.

Lamme said the General Assembly could not begin the process of redistricting until detailed census figures are released sometime in mid-March to early April.

Beyle said all areas of the state will be affected by the added district.

"The districts in major metropolitan areas will get smaller and districts in rural areas will get bigger," Beyle said. "Triangle districts will get smaller."

Despite the contention, state party leaders are optimistic about the opportunities an additional seat in Congress could provide.

"We're glad to have an extra seat," said Scott Falmlen, executive director of the N.C. Democratic Party. "We're going to do everything in our power to make sure it's a Democratic seat."

But Republican leaders are hoping the new district will help them retain the seven U.S. House seats they already have. "We are excited about North Carolina getting another seat," said Bill Cobey, chairman of the N.C. Republican Party. "From a partisan standpoint, I think it gives us a better chance to hold on to our seven incumbents in Congress."

Cobey said the Democrats will try to draw districts that make it more likely for them to be elected. But he said these efforts might not have a detrimental impact for Republicans. "(Redistricting) is a zero-sum game," he said. "You can't create better districts for Democrats without creating better districts for Republicans."

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