Raleigh, N.C. — State Sen. Ben Clark's Republican colleagues agreed to tweak the Senate's proposed new electoral map to accommodate his second home, but moving the bulk of Fort Bragg into his district proved too big an ask on Monday.
Clark, D-Hoke, has been one of the legislature's biggest critics when it comes to the Republican majority's map-making process. He points with frequency to statistics that he says show the map emerging out of this court-ordered process remains unfair to Democrats.
His criticisms, backed by many in his party, have done little to slow the process. The state Senate approved its new map Monday night without support from any of the chamber's 15 Democrats. The House also approved its map Monday, and both chambers will take up the other's map later this week, finalizing them before a review by the panel of federal judges that found the current maps unconstitutional.
Monday's Senate vote followed a lengthy speech by Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger, who said Democrats should look in the mirror to explain their inability to make legislative gains, not blame gerrymandered maps.
Maps, Berger said, have been "the boogeyman since (Democrats) were swept out of power in 2010." Swept out of power, he noted, in an election held with maps Democrats drew themselves.
Before Monday's vote, Republicans shot down a couple of last-ditch amendments from Democrats, including Clark's pitch to move much of Fort Bragg from the district of Sen. Wesley Meredith, R-Cumberland, district into Clark's. GOP senators said the change would make it more difficult for Meredith to win re-election.
State Sen. Ralph Hise, R-Mitchell, who has shepherded this new map through the Senate, noted the change that Clark won Thursday, when senators agreed to add a peninsula to his district so that it would include his new home.
"An address that we were not given before," Hise said. "But apparently that move was not enough."
On Thursday, Clark called this house his second home and said he was splitting time between there and his home in Hoke County. He would not tell WRAL News on Monday whether he plans to move to the Cumberland County house full time and seek re-election from it. The Fayetteville Observer reported over the weekend that the map change would affect about 1,055 people, moving them from Meredith's district into Clark's. In committee last week, the number affected was estimated at about 300.
GOP support for the new maps was not unanimous Monday, with three Republican senators voting against the plan. Each would face a more difficult road to re-election under the new plan.
"I rise to defend Beaufort County," state Sen. Bill Cook, R-Beaufort, said before voting against a map that would pit him against a Democratic incumbent in a district that leans left.
"This conservative-leaning county will be drowned in a sea of liberalism," Cook said.
Before the final Senate vote, Berger, R-Rockingham, rose to give a numbers-heavy speech, using election results from dozens of North Carolina races to fight the idea that Republicans can thank a gerrymandered map for their veto-proof majority in the General Assembly. He recalled his first year in the state Senate, 2001, and the map Democrats in control of the legislature drew around that time.
Map lines snaked through counties in "a severe gerrymander" of "grotesque districts," the Republican leader said.
Back then, a North Carolina Democrat was different from a national one, Berger said. These days, there is little daylight between the two, and Berger said Democrats won't find widespread success here again without finding contrasts with the national party. Gov. Roy Cooper won a close election last year, but he won a majority of the vote in only 28 counties, Berger said.
Berger ticked off rural counties where Democrats once dominated and now can't compete. High support in the urban areas will net a narrow statewide election, he said, but you can't build a legislative majority off it.
As Berger spoke, Common Cause North Carolina, a left-leaning good-government group that has advocated for redistricting reform, sent out a reminder of legislation Berger signed onto in 2001, when he was in the minority, calling for independent redistricting.
"A good idea then," the group said from its Twitter account. "Still a good idea now."