Wake redistricting effort clears House committee
Posted March 31, 2015
Updated April 2, 2015
Raleigh, N.C. — The House Elections Committee voted along party lines Tuesday night in favor of a proposal to redraw Wake County's Board of Commissioners districts.
The 19-9 vote during a late two-hour meeting means the bill could be on the House floor as early as Wednesday.
Senate Bill 181 would redraw the lines for the seven existing county commissioner seats and add two regional super-districts to the board, one representing the county's urban core and the other the outlying towns and rural areas.
The bill also would eliminate the current countywide voting for all Board of Commissioners members, limiting people to voting only for the commissioner in their district and one of the super-districts. The changes would start in 2016.
Bill sponsor Sen. Chad Barefoot, R-Wake, told the committee that Wake County commissioners now represent more people than the governor of Delaware and that smaller communities are losing their voice to the dominance of Raleigh and Cary.
"There's nothing local about trying to represent a million people," Barefoot said.
Seventeen of the 25 people who spoke to the committee about the bill oppose it, however, calling it everything from a partisan power-grab by Republicans to a "travesty for democracy." The bill was introduced about four months after Wake County voters elected four Democrats to the Board of Commissioners over four incumbent Republicans, giving Democrats all seven seats on the board.
"This is bad government at its worst," Commissioner John Burns said. "Please don't tell the people of Wake County that it is rain they feel on their heads because it is now. We know better."
Harvey Schmitt, president and chief executive of the Greater Raleigh Chamber of Commerce, said eliminating countywide representatives on the Board of Commissioners would end the big-picture perspective and collaboration among commissioners.
"We would have district versus district competing for limited resources," Schmitt said. "All commissioners would be focused on bringing home the bacon for their districts."
Rep. Darren Jackson, D-Wake, tried to amend the bill to make the super-regional seats countywide at-large elections, but the proposal was defeated. The committee also voted down his effort to scrap the super-regional seats altogether.
Supporters of the bill said the current Board of Commissioners format isn't fair to residents outside of Raleigh, noting that five of the seven
"It's a second City Council for Raleigh sitting in the seats of the Wake County commission," said Ed Jones, chairman of the Wake County Taxpayers Association.
Barefoot said Raleigh's ability to vote as a bloc also made a call for a county referendum on any changes to the Board of Commissioners a bad idea. The committee voted against an amendment from Rep. Rosa Gill, D-Wake, for such a vote.
Gill also put forward her own redistricting map that would split Raleigh in half in the super-districts and would reduce the sprawling nature of the other seven districts. Rep. Paul Stam, R-Wake, called that plan "lawsuit bait" that would invite a legal challenge. The maps in Barefoot's bill were drawn to match newly formed county Board of Education lines, which have been upheld by a federal judge, Stam said. Those maps are now under review by the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
The committee defeated Gill's maps in another party-line vote.