Raleigh, N.C. — Women Democrats in the General Assembly were hit hardest by new maps of legislative voting districts, but Republicans insisted Thursday that gender wasn't a factor in the way they drew the maps.
The maps placed two of the three Democratic women in the Senate in districts with other incumbents. The tactic is called "double-bunking," and it's often used to force lawmakers to retire.
So far, six female Democrats have announced plans to retire: Sen. Linda Garrou of Forsyth County and Reps. Jennifer Weiss of Wake County, Diane Parfitt of Cumberland County, Alice Bordsen of Alamance County, Edith Warren of Pitt County and Patsy Keever of Buncombe County.
Candidate filing opens next Monday, and more female lawmakers are expected to not seek re-election.
"Many of them were double-bunked. Many of them were drawn into districts that were so unwinnable that it began to be a real threat to this whole process of women in the legislature," said Sen. Ellie Kinnaird, D-Orange.
Kinnaird's redrawn district pits her against fellow Democrat Bob Atwater. She said she plans to run for re-election, but it's unclear whether Atwater will oppose her in the May 8 primary.
In the House, eight of the 22 Democratic women were double bunked, and the districts of four others were drawn in such a way to make them more difficult for a Democrat to win.
By comparison, only 24 percent of men in the House – Democrat or Republican – were double-bunked.
No Republican women were double-bunked in the House.
Carol Teal, director of Lillian's List, a political group for Democratic women, said Republican mapmakers went out of their way to double-bunk women.
"Women were targeted. They were deliberately targeted," Teal said. "I can understand why they'd want to get rid of all these progressive women who were champions for education and women's reproductive rights. All the cuts that (the General Assembly) made disproportionately affected women."
Rep. David Lewis, the chairman of the House Redistricting Committee, said lawmakers were targeted in the maps because of their politics, not their gender.
"It's truly an absurd accusation that in any way women were targeted," said Lewis, R-Harnett. "There are elected members of the General Assembly who happen to be women who have constantly advocated for failed policies that are out of step with what North Carolina needs. The only explanation they can come up with is to try to play some kind of victim role."
Lillian's List is ready to field new female Democratic candidates in November, Teal said.
"Women are mad. They're angry, and they're ready to go," she said.