Raleigh, N.C. — A bill passed by the state Senate to redraw Wake County's Board of Commissioners districts will likely get a warm reception in the House.
Senators passed the measure on a 32-16 party-line vote Thursday morning, with Republicans backing the bill by Sen. Chad Barefoot, R-Wake, and Democrats opposed.
The bill, which would redraw the lines for the existing county commissioner seats and add two super-regional districts to the board, now heads to the House, where senior Republicans on the Wake County delegation appear to be in favor, or at least not opposed, to it.
"We'll take a look at it when it comes over," said Rep. Nelson Dollar, R-Wake, the House's senior budget chairman.
Rep. Paul "Skip" Stam, R-Wake, the speaker pro tem of the chamber, is an enthusiastic backer of the bill.
The new commissioner districts were drawn to match newly formed county Board of Education lines. One federal judge has already rejected a challenge to the new school board voting districts, but plaintiffs have asked the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to review the lines.
"If you do any other set of districts at all, someone is going to have the bright idea to sue," Stam said.
Sticking with the Senate bill, he said, would protect the redistricting from legal challenges.
Democratic opponents charge that Republicans brought the redistricting plan forward only after Democrats won all seven seats on the Board of Commissioners in November. Sen. Josh Stein, D-Wake, charged again on the Senate floor Wednesday that the redraw was a partisan attempt to get more Republicans on the county board.
Stam said it was Republicans who fell victim to partisanship in 2014.
A key feature of the current plan is that the seven commissioners must live in and represent geographic districts, but they have to run at large across a county with 1 million residents. This, Stam argues, leaves incumbents and newcomers alike vulnerable to political winds not of their own making.
For example, candidates, parties and outside groups spent millions on local legislative races in 2014. While those ads didn't mention county commissioners specifically, "The people in the rest of the county got all of that advertising about how Republicans are bad," he said.
"They (Republican commissioner candidates) were the collateral damage of the attempt to get three or four legislators," he continued.
Smaller districts, he said, would allow candidates to run more locally focused campaigns that push back against those broadcast messages.
Stam said there isn't yet a scheduled for taking up the redistricting bill, but he expected to see it move in the next month.