Editorial: End the gerrymander games now

Posted December 5, 2016 5:08 a.m. EST
Updated December 5, 2016 10:02 a.m. EST

A CBC Editorial: Monday, Dec.5, 2016; Editorial# 8090
The following is the opinion of Capitol Broadcasting Company

Republicans and Democrats in the North Carolina General Assembly have it wrong.

Redistricting is not about senators or representatives.

Redistricting is about the citizens and voters who elect them.

It is the fundamental principle of democracy – voters elect the people who represent and govern them.

Our leaders don’t pick the people they serve. Our nation fought a war of independence over that notion 240 years ago.

Tragically, for much of this decade, representation in North Carolina has been more akin to a feudal empire. Powerful political leaders sliced up the state and bestowed portions on favored patrons. Legislative districts were custom-tailored to fit the people the power-brokers wanted in the General Assembly.

It isn’t a partisan assessment. That is the conclusion reached by a panel of three federal judges: U.S. Court of Appeals Judge James Wynn, appointed to the bench by a Democrat; U.S. District Judge Thomas Schroeder, appointed by a Republican and U.S. District Judge Catherine Eagles, appointed by a Democrat.

This federal judicial panel has now handed the legislature an assignment to move the state out of the middle ages and into the 21st century.

And the homework – new and constitutional House and Senate districts – are due to the court by March 15, 2017. We’ve already suggested, in a previous editorial, how the legislature should go about completing this assignment. Legislative leaders should immediately form a bipartisan study commission to come up with a plan for the development of new districts.

Additionally, when the legislative session starts on Jan. 11, 2017, they should be ready to create a bipartisan redistricting commission that will be ready to get to work – no matter whether it is the Republicans or Democrats in charge -- the next time the state is required to draw up new congressional and legislative districts.

But, even before that, we think the legislators could use some more help and guidance.

Duke University and Common Cause North Carolina can revive its ground-breaking work on nonpartisan redistricting, which brought together several retired state justices and judges who developed a credible map for North Carolina’s 13 congressional districts.

This time around, apply the same bipartisan spirit and cooperation, bring together some former judges along with some former legislators, and come up with maps for North Carolina’s state Senate and House districts. The plans will go to the legislature as a guide and should also be filed with the federal court. Should the legislature find itself incapable of doing as the court requested, the judges will have a plan at hand that should meet their criteria.

The legislature should be able to take on the work. It is not a complicated task, but it will require hard work and focus. That focus should be on creating a state House and Senate that looks more like North Carolina than a medieval cabal.

As a guide to those – in the General Assembly and outside -- we suggest sticking to the basics when drawing the district lines. Create 120 state House and 50 state Senate districts that are:

  • Geographically compact without ANY consideration of political party registration or voting history.
  • Equal in population and comply with the federal Voting Rights Act.
  • Unified and reflect a recognizable commonality – urban areas of the state should have an appropriate voice in the legislature just as suburban and rural areas. Slicing urban areas like pieces of pie with larger rural constituencies, is unfair to the interests of those in our cities.

Getting this task by the Duke-Common Cause done, and to the General Assembly, as soon as possible provide a real world example of how to make the legislature a more democratic (and that’s with the lower-case ‘d’) institution.

The Republican leadership in the General Assembly will be better off, as the judges have recommended in their order, buckling down to the task at hand, than frittering away time and taxpayer money scheming more needless delay tactics and pointless legal challenges.

The political games have gone on far too long. The time is now for our legislature to get the job done.

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