House and Senate lawmakers got an earful tonight in a five-hour public comment session on redistricting. People lined up at seven sites around the state to weigh in via videoconference on proposed minority (VRA) voting districts
The comments were overwhelmingly negative.
Many speakers criticized the Redistricting committee for only releasing the maps of the VRA districts, arguing that it wasn't possible to comment articulately on a map that's still 78% blank. (Actually, NC case law requires the committee to draw up the VRA maps first.) The full legislative maps are now scheduled to be released July 11th.
Others, many of them NAACP members around the state, accused the Republicans of trying to "pack" minority districts - that is, to lump as many minority voters into one district as possible in order to dilute their political power in surrounding areas, making surrounding districts more friendly to GOP candidates.
Ben Griffin in Wilmington called it a "strategy of segregation for partisan advantage."
Speaker Miriam Pollard from Orange County said, "I just can’t believe that in 2011, North Carolina is going to allow the world to watch us create political apartheid.”
Others complained that their counties were being split apart by the VRA districts, especially speakers from Franklin and New Hanover, both of which had multiple comments made on their behalf.
“The county’s just been broken in half. It’s really the most obviously gerrymandered district,” said Todd Bennett, a Franklin County man who identified himself as a Republican. He said the "simply indefensible" maps violate the state Constitution. “This is not justice. This is not fair.”
Longtime Wilmington City Council member Laura Padgett said a plan to lump downtown Wilmington into a district with rural Bladen County would "deprive us of adequate representation....we’re tacked on as almost an afterthought.”
But the most often-heard complaint, coming from Democrats and Republicans alike, was that the maps are gerrymandered for political gain.
Dan McCorkle from Charlotte chided Senate Chair Bob Rucho for what he called "blatant and shocking" political gerrymandering. "You promised a different kind of leadership. You promised openness, fairness, and no games would be played in redistricting." McCorkle said.
And Franklin County GOP chair Jeremy Neal called the proposed maps "a joke" that would "come back to bite the Republican party."
"These maps, I think, are being thrown to fulfill an agenda and to pull strings," Neal said. "I cannot put a positive spin on this, even if my party is in power and is drawing the maps."
After the meeting, Rucho said the hearing was "exactly what we wanted."
"It’s complicated, it’s challenging. But it’s a great step because we had – I think probably a hundred people had a chance to speak today and provide their opinions on it," Rucho said. "This is the kind of feedback we want. Because if we didn’t want it, we wouldn’t be having these public hearings".
But Rucho stopped short of saying the feedback would lead to changes in the maps.
“I think what’ll probably happen is they’ll bring all this information back and recognize the areas that they think they can accomplish this that still remain legal,” Rucho said.
“There are some discrepancies or differences in opinion on the Voting Rights Act, and that’s something that’ll have to be looked at and determined," he added. "At one point, I’m sure that those issues that could be addressed will be addressed.”
You can watch the full conversation with Rucho at right.