Raleigh, N.C. — A freshman legislator suggested last week that a key member of House leadership knew what his new district would look like "a long time before" others.
Rep. Donna White, R-Johnston, didn't return phone messages seeking more information about her comments, which suggested House Majority Leader John Bell enrolled his daughter in a swim club in a new part of his district well before the maps were made public.
House Rules Chairman David Lewis, who spearheaded the recent map-making process, said Bell got a preview of the map only two days before it went public Aug. 19.
Democrats said repeatedly during an early August public hearing on redistricting that they believed the process to be a sham and that Republican majority leaders already had secret maps ready for approval. Lewis, R-Harnett, denied that at the time, and he reiterated that Tuesday, saying GOP leaders waited for public input and didn't pre-draw maps.
White discussed the new maps last Thursday during a gathering of the Johnston County Republican Women. She also joked about Bell's ability to raise lots of campaign cash and how that might help local colleagues now that he's been drawn into a Johnston County district.
"John does want to get involved with the women and the GOP party," White said. "I understand that, with his big bucks that he has to have to be the majority leader, that he's going to share a lot of those big bucks. So, I said, 'Come on, we’ll be glad to let you have, we'll be glad to give you three precincts for lots of money.'
“So, John is a very likeable person," White continued. "He has a young daughter, and he has already, I think, knew this a long time before we did, so he’s been enrolling his daughter here in Smithfield over at the local swim club.”
White's remarks, and the rest of Thursday's GOP gathering, were recorded and shared Monday with WRAL News. The comments begin around the 33-minute mark. Michelle Haller, president of the Johnston County Republican Women, confirmed that she heard White say "something along those lines" at the meeting, but she cautioned against reading too much into the comments without speaking to White or Bell.
Neither returned phone messages seeking comment, but the House Republican Caucus made Lewis available for an interview. After consulting his calendar, Lewis said Bell saw his district lines Aug. 17, two days before the full House map was released to the public. Bell got a preview "like every other member of the Republican caucus that I was able to meet with," Lewis said.
This new map, and its counterpart in the state Senate, was drawn after the federal courts struck down the current maps over an unconstitutional racial gerrymander in 28 districts. The court is set to decide in the coming weeks whether the newly drawn maps pass muster and can be used in the 2018 elections.