House Minority Leader Joe Hackney spoke out today about the GOP redistricting plans for statehouse and congressional districts, calling them "partisan hardball" and voicing skepticism about their odds of gaining approval from federal officials or the D.C. Circuit Court.
Hackney is one of twelve Democrats that have been drawn into districts with a fellow Democratic incumbent. But he didn't want to focus on that, aside from noting that he has a residence in Chatham County. The current proposal reshapes his district to exclude Hackney's Orange County home, throwing him into Democrat Verla Insko's district.
"It's not about me. It’s about the map as a whole," Hackney said. "It’s a continuation of packing the minorities into minority districts far in excess of what is required by the Voting Rights Act for a partisan political advantage for the Republicans."
Asked whether the House plan targets Democratic caucus leaders, Hackney didn't disagree.
"Obviously, within Cumberland County, the two members [Ds Rick Glazier and Diane Parfitt] could have easily been separated – could perhaps still be," Hackney noted. "The same thing in Asheville – easy to separate those two," he said of double-bunked Dems Susan Fisher and Patsy Keever.
And the doubling up of former Judiciary 1 chair Deborah Ross and former Homeland Security chair Grier Martin in Wake County? "It’s just pure politics. Pure partisan hardball, partisan politics. That’s what that is,” Hackney said.
The former speaker didn't deny that both political parties generally try to give themselves an advantage as they re-draw voting maps. “It’s a matter of following the law, and it’s a matter of degree. We have not seen this kind of partisanship in maps before in North Carolina, because we have not seen this kind of packing into African-American districts."
Hackney thinks the current plan will be found illegal because it increases the African-American voting population in a handful of legislative and congressional districts. In most of those districts, he said, African-American candidates are already being elected with 45-47% percent minority population. But Republicans are piling more African-American voters into those districts, anyway.
According to Democrats, the proposed congressional map would sweep about 47% of the state's black voters into the three congressional districts where they already wield the most influence. "The net result of that doesn’t improve African-American election prospects at all - they’re winning already," Hackney said. "What it does is it minimizes the influence of African-Americans in surrounding districts.”
Hackney noted that similar strategies in other southern states have made African-American lawmakers a majority in Democratic caucuses, but a permanent political minority in the legislature.
Under the last round of redistricting a decade ago, Democrats came under fire for creating too few majority-minority districts. But Hackney thinks there's a balance to be struck. "What Democrats have tried to do over the years is to build African-American voting into the fabric of North Carolina, rather than segregating African-American voters," he said. "When you segregate the electorate, you change the politics of the state, and you change it for the worse."
The current proposal would make as many as 10 of the state's 13 congressional districts friendly ground for Republicans. Hackney is hoping the second draft of the maps, expected early next week, will be less partisan and more reflective of the state's divided political demographics.
"Under the maps prepared by Democrats, the Democrats won the last congressional election 7-6. It would be great if they gave themselves a small partisan advantage and came out with something that was 7-6 Republican. That would be fair,” Hackney said.
Watch the full interview at right.