Local News

Bipartisan Group Wants To Reform Legislative Redisticting

Posted October 24, 2006

— Voters go to the polls in two weeks, but how much choice will they really have?

Half of the state legislative races -- 86 -- will be uncontested in November. A vast majority of the remaining races aren't considered competitive.

A bipartisan coalition comprised of government watchdog groups and former lawmakers blamed the redistricting process for driving away challengers. They argued incumbents have an unfair advantage because they're involved in drawing their district's boundries.

At worst, critics call North Carolina's state legislative and congressional districts an example of gerrymandering. At best, the colorful blobs sometimes defy visual reason. Whether it's the chopped-up 12th Legislative District in eastern North Carolina or the snake-like 12th Congressional District, lawmakers have the power to draw the map.

"Districts are built to favor specific ideologies, particular parties and to maintain power," said Carnell Robinson of the North Carolina Black Leadership Caucus at a Tuesday news conference in Raleigh.

The same coalition that helped push through lobbying and ethics reforms now wants an independent commission to decide which communities vote for which candidates.

"There's a fundamental conflict of interest when our elected officials draw district lines to benefit themselves," said former U.S. Rep and state Republican Party Chair Bill Cobey.

Cobey was joined Tuesday by a longtime political adversary -- former Democratic U.S. Rep. Tim Valentine, who said he also wants politics taken out of the redistricting process.

"I see this commission as a country lawyer, something like a jury panel," Valentine said.

The group said it feels partisan maps are keeping incumbents entrenched. Bob Phillips of coalition member Common Cause warned that's bad for voters.

"What you don't have is accountability from the people who are in office if they don't have competition," Phillips said. "And I think one thing missing also in the elections right now is the issues with discussion and debate."

Reform advocates admitted that changes in the redistricting process would be tough to make, because lawmakers would have to agree to give up their power to craft those districts. Twelve other states currently have independent redistricting commissions.

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