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Sunday May 28th

NC legislators struggle for bipartisan solution to gerrymandering issue

The congressional district plan was enacted on Feb. 19, 2016. It was drawn in response to a ruling by the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of North Carolina. Photo courtesy of the N.C. General Assembly.
Buy Photos The congressional district plan was enacted on Feb. 19, 2016. It was drawn in response to a ruling by the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of North Carolina. Photo courtesy of the N.C. General Assembly.

North Carolina Republicans asked the U.S. Supreme Court to halt a second lower-court redistricting order against state House and Senate districts they approved last summer. 

Lawyers for the Republican lawmakers asked the court to block a panel of federal judges' decision that accepted alterations to two dozen legislative districts made by a court-appointed expert. The judges ordered the maps to be used in this year's election. 

Earlier this month, for the second time in three years, federal judges ordered North Carolina Republicans to redraw congressional voting maps because of excessive partisan gerrymandering.

After the initial Jan. 24 deadline for redrawn maps was delayed last week by the U.S. Supreme Court, it is possible the unconstitutional maps will be used in this year’s midterm elections.

Sen. Jeff Jackson, D-Mecklenburg, has an alternative plan.

Jackson proposed a bill to the state Senate Jan. 8 to establish an independent redistricting commission.

The commission would consist of nine members — two appointed by the chief justice of the state Supreme Court, three by the governor and one each by the respective leaders of the two major parties in both houses of the state legislature.

“Independent redistricting is key to bringing back bipartisanship,” Jackson said. “North Carolina is a 50-50 state, but the reason we’re not functioning like that on a political level is because of gerrymandering.”

The bill drew immediate criticism from Republicans, such as Rep. Scott Stone, R-Mecklenburg.

Stone denounced the bill on Twitter Jan. 12. He views the three proposed gubernatorial commission picks as an opportunity for Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper to tilt the commission in his party’s favor.

“When (Jackson) proposes legislation that would give a majority of the decision makers to his party, which is currently out of power, it’s a little disingenuous,” Stone told The Daily Tar Heel.

It’s not the first time a state opposition party has proposed an independent redistricting commission, though, let alone the same bill.

Jackson’s bill — which was co-sponsored by Senators Erica Smith, D-Gaston, and Ben Clark, D-Cumberland — is strikingly similar to several bills proposed by state Republicans throughout the 2000s when the current majority party was in the minority.

Jackson said he featured similar language because Sen. Phil Berger, R-Guilford, and Rep. Tim Moore, R-Cleveland, now respectively the state’s president pro tempore and speaker of the N.C. House, also sponsored versions of the bill.

“I didn’t want them to object to my methods, so I decided to use theirs,” Jackson said. “Sure enough, they’re objecting, as if they didn’t propose the exact same language.”

Either way, Stone doesn’t foresee the Republican side of the aisle budging on the issue.

Legislative power in North Carolina changes hands quickly. Stone cites the Republicans’ 2010 victories in both houses of the state’s legislature when his party won on maps drawn by House Democrats.

“There have been Republicans that have filed these sorts of things and there have been Democrats, but quite frankly, the reason Democrats are in favor of it now is because they’re not in the majority,” Stone said. “If they were in the majority, I guarantee that they wouldn’t be talking about it at all.”

Regardless, Stone doesn’t feel an independent redistricting commission is a viable option for drawing the state’s districts.

The state has always depended on the majority party to draw appropriate districts and that’s the way it should stay, Stone said.

“The reason we are not going to go to an independent commission is because that is not how it has ever been done,” he said. “The role of the legislature is to draw the maps. That’s how it is in our constitution.”


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