Margaret Dickson: Elections results should reflect all, not just narrow, powerful ideology
Posted September 13
Editor's note: Margaret Dickson represented Cumberland County in the N.C. House of Representatives from 2003 through 2010 and in the N.C. Senate from 2010 through 2011.
Millions of Americans understand that something is deeply and profoundly amiss with the way we go about electing members of Congress and our state legislatures – even if they aren’t quite sure what the problems are.
One of the biggest is partisan gerrymandering. While it has been with us since our nation began, it has never before been on the scale in which it was employed in North Carolina’s congressional and legislative redistricting in 2011.
Make no mistake about where I stand. I am the lead plaintiff in one of the lawsuits that ultimately resulted in the U.S. Supreme Court declaring 28 of 170 North Carolina legislative districts unconstitutional. Legislators hustled to meet a court imposed Sept. 1 deadline to approve constitutional districts.
Whether they succeeded in their assignment is a matter of debate and I’m guessing that the courts will ultimately draw these legislative district maps.
Bear in mind that the elections of 2012, 2014, and 2016 were conducted in unconstitutional districts, calling into question for some North Carolinians whether the laws that are products of those unconstitutionally elected legislators are constitutional themselves.
I have lived and breathed gerrymandering for the better part of this decade. Gerrymandering — even the word puts some people to sleep. It isn’t a stretch to say it is everything we hated about high school civics. Eldridge Gerry, the 1812 governor of Massachusetts, signed off on a partisan redistricting in scheme. “Gerrymandering” was born and the practice has been with us ever since.
But redistricting, required every 10 years after a U.S. census, underpins the fairness of our elective process. When it goes wrong as it did in the most partisan gerrymander ever in 2011, elections can be lopsided for a decade or more.
Countless people have said to me that the Republicans in the General Assembly, who hired outside consultants with taxpayer dollars to draw a highly partisan and ultimately unconstitutional redistricting, “did not do anything the Democrats have not done.”
Yes and no. Democrats and Republicans have gerrymandered since Gov. Gerry got it all rolling more than 200 years ago, largely for political advantage for certain incumbents or to punish others. But never — I repeat, never - -in U.S. history has there been anything close to what occurred in North Carolina and several other “purple” states in 2011.
Here is what went down.
A Republican lawyer in Richmond had the brilliant — and I mean it sincerely -- idea to snag the majority in the U.S. House of Representatives by taking over purple state legislatures in 2010 to control the redistricting process for both Congress and state legislatures.
This plan, code-named REDMAP, was executed with “surgical precision.” Fancy map-drawing computer software was paid for by Republicans in Washington. The scheme was legal and succeeded beyond even the wildest expectations of its architects.
The heavily gerrymandered maps drawn in 2011 not only guaranteed Republican control of the U.S. House for at least the current decade and probably beyond, they also consolidated Republican control of state legislatures, including the North Carolina General Assembly.
This stunning strategic plan coupled with sophisticated software never before available hijacked the redistricting process and cemented GOP control of the legislative process regardless of the will of voters in several states and in the US House.
And it was all done for about $30 million -- far less than it would have taken to elect members of Congress the old-fashioned way. For slightly more than $1 million spent in North Carolina, Republicans bought a veto proof General Assembly, which continues to this day.
Don’t take my word for it. There are books about REDMAP and numerous articles in all sorts of publications.
David Daley, author of “The True Story Behind the Plan to Steal America’s Democracy,” calls REDMAP “gerrymandering on steroids.”
Why should North Carolinians, busy working hard for their families, give a hoot about arcane and unsexy gerrymandering?
Because the people who are elected in this unfair process to the General Assembly and Congress make decisions that affect all of us — from the kinds of public schools our children attend, to access to health care our parents need, the strength and quality of our military and much, much more.
Our elected representatives should be reflections of all of us, not just a powerful narrow ideology.
The results of REDMAP have been lawsuits and efforts to institute bipartisan, even nonpartisan, redistricting plans.
Most states, but not all, task their legislatures with this. The United States is the only developed nation that allows those who will benefit, to draw their own representation plans. Talk about the fox guarding the hen house!
We’ve learned a harsh and difficult lesson from REDMAP. New ways of redistricting are clearly in order. It is time to heed reform proposals so that everyone one in North Carolina is fairly represented.