GOP donor Art Pope, former UNC President Tom Ross encourage redistricting reform
Posted September 29, 2021 5:09 p.m. EDT
Updated September 29, 2021 8:57 p.m. EDT
Raleigh, N.C. — North Carolina may be closer to redistricting reform than some voters realize.
That’s what Republican donor and businessman Art Pope and former University of North Carolina President Tom Ross told the audience Wednesday during an event at Duke University. The school invited election experts from across the state to a day-long conference where they discussed the implications of map-drawing across the country.
Every 10 years, states are required to update their congressional and legislative district maps to account for population fluctuations.
In North Carolina and many states, the state legislature is in charge of drawing the maps. That means the majority political party often has the power to draw the maps to give themselves an advantage, which has definitely occurred in North Carolina and other states.
Ross and Pope, a former legislator and state budget director, say they’ve had positive conversations with state lawmakers about putting the idea of redistricting reform to a vote through a statewide referendum.
Ross, co-chair of North Carolinians for Redistricting Reform, said the idea may have gotten more attention before the 2020 election “had the pandemic not completely consumed every legislative activity."
“We were hearing positive things,” Ross said.
Pope, who’s seen in liberal circles as a Republican kingmaker, noted that he’s worked across the aisle to advance the idea of amending North Carolina’s constitution through a referendum.
“In 2020, yes, I picked up the phone and talked to legislators on both the Republican and Democratic side,” he said.
Pope was a major contributor to Republicans who took control of the state House and Senate in 2010, and he ultimately served as budget director for former Gov. Pat McCrory until 2014. That conservative majority drew election maps that faced legal scrutiny multiple times over the last decade.
Pope noted that he’s worked on redistricting reform since he was a legislator in the late 1980s and 1990s. North Carolina’s process has improved somewhat because of rules implemented after court rulings, he said. Republican lawmakers recently said they won’t use past election results, party registration data or data on race to draw new maps.
Still, the current process gives the majority party an advantage. Not only does that hurt the minority party, Pope said, it can hurt members of the majority party, too.
Party leaders can use the current system to protect incumbents. They can also punish people within the caucus who don’t fall in line by drawing them into a less-favorable district.
“We need to start working today for a constitutional amendment for the next round (of redistricting),” Pope said.