The GOP’s proposed new congressional voting map was officially introduced in Thursday’s Joint Redistricting committee meeting.
“We believe it fully complies with applicable federal and state law,” House Chairman David Lewis, R-Harnett, said. “We also believe that a majority of North Carolinians will agree that our proposed plan will establish congressional districts that are fair to North Carolina voters.”
Under the GOP plan, 10 of the state’s 13 congressional districts would lean Republican – a big change from the current split of 7 Democrats and 6 Republicans.
Sen. Josh Stein, D-Wake, asked Lewis how mapmakers justified giving their own party such a big advantage.
Lewis answered that, after drawing the 1st district, protected by the Voter's Rights Act, and the 12th, which has been the focus of more litigation than any other NC district, mapmakers followed the law regarding population and compactness.
“Things fell as they did,” he concluded.
As it turns out, “things” had a little help. Lewis said the committee hired Tom Hofeller to draw the maps. Hofeller, whom Lewis called “a well-respected expert in the field of map drawing,” was the redistricting chairman for the Republican National Committee from the 1980s into the early 2000s.
After the meeting, Senate Chairman Bob Rucho, R-Mecklenburg, said he doesn’t believe Hofeller works for the national party any longer. He’s now a redistricting consultant. Rucho said Hofeller probably won’t be at any of the committee hearings, but he may be available for questions during next week’s session.
Lewis also said the committee chairs – himself, Rucho, and Reps Nelson Dollar, R-Wake, and Jerry Dockham, R-Davidson – had hired outside counsel to advise them on the maps. The two attorneys are Phil Strach, former legal counsel to the state Republican party, and Thomas Farr, noted Republican redistricting expert. Both are with Ogletree Deakins in Raleigh.
When asked whether advice provided by Farr and Strach to the chairs would be made available to the committee, Lewis said it would not, since the attorneys were hired to advise the chairs, not the committee as a whole.
Rucho confirmed Hofeller is being paid with state dollars through the General Assembly's budget, but the payment will be made through the attorneys as an expense. "That's how it's done," Rucho said. He wouldn't say how much Hofeller is being paid.
House Minority Leader Joe Hackney, D-Orange, who took part in the Democrats' last redistricting cycle in 2001, said his party had not brought in experts from outside the state. They hired consultant Kevin LeCount, now with SEANC, to advise them on legislative districts. Hackney said LeCount wasn't highly paid - "maybe 15, 20 dollars an hour." UPDATE: LeCount disputes that figure. More on that here.
Hackney also said the Democrats had not brought in outside counsel until their maps went to DC for pre-clearance by the US Department of Justice. The DC firm that handled the pre-clearance process was Jenner and Block, a well-known Democratic legal firm that specializes in redistricting.