The Daily Tar Heel
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The Daily Tar Heel

Right out of the gate, Republicans in the N.C. General Assembly want to reject federal Medicaid money, eliminate the state income tax and fire every member of eight major statewide boards and commissions.

If you’re wondering what’s empowering these GOP leaders to fearlessly pursue every far-right agenda item on their wish list, there’s a simple answer: redistricting.

North Carolina may have a conservative tilt, but it’s still a closely divided battleground state. Mitt Romney beat President Barack Obama here by less than 100,000 votes out of 4.4 million cast, making it the third-closest state in the 2012 presidential election.

But that competitive reality doesn’t add up in the electoral math for members of the state legislature since new Republican majorities drew strongly favorable maps for their party in 2011. Legal challenges to the new maps are pending, but for now they’re the law of the land.

The N.C. FreeEnterprise Foundation has a breakdown of the discrepancies between votes cast and seats won in 2012, and it makes clear how redistricting distorted competitive results into veto-proof majorities for Republicans.

In the N.C. Senate, Republican candidates won 52.6 percent of the cumulative vote but captured 66 percent of the seats. In the N.C. House of Representatives, GOP candidates won 51.3 percent of the cumulative vote but took 64.2 percent of the seats.

After the conservative wave election in 2010, that disadvantage is national in scope. The Center for American Progress analyzed 2012 election returns and found that even if Democrats had won the national popular vote by seven percentage points, they would still be stuck in the minority in the U.S. House of Representatives.

For example, North Carolina Democrats running for the U.S. House received 50.6 percent of the total vote but won just four of the state’s 13 seats in Congress.

This isn’t just one party’s problem. N.C. Democrats were foolish and shortsighted to dodge redistricting reform opportunities throughout the previous decade when they were in the majority. Republicans would be wise to avoid making the same mistake.

The biggest victim here (besides the public interest) may be Republican Gov. Pat McCrory, who has already had a rough first month in office full of public relations blunders.

Former Gov. Bev Perdue’s approval ratings plummeted during her first six months in office and never rebounded. McCrory will be lucky if the reckless GOP legislature doesn’t sink his poll numbers too.

The spoils of redistricting have enabled Republicans to build robust legislative majorities that aren’t vulnerable to shifts in public opinion. These maps enable the GOP to pursue a policy agenda that’s often way out of step with the state’s prevailing political attitudes, and they can do that without having to worry about the negative electoral repercussions.

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