Voters weigh in on congressional maps

Voters all over the state lined up tonight to speak at a six-hour public hearing on proposed new congressional districts crafted by Republican leaders.

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Laura Leslie

Voters all over the state lined up tonight to speak at a six-hour, multi-site videoconferenced public hearing on proposed new congressional voting districts crafted by Republican leaders.

The hearing was less one-sided than the last hearing on VRA state districts, but critics of the map still outnumbered supporters, especially as the night wore on.  However, many speakers, fans and foes alike, thanked lawmakers for their hard work in trying to meet a patchwork of state and federal legal and judicial requirements for the map. 

Lee Co. Commissioner Jim Womack spoke early in the hearing “to applaud the work that’s been done so far” on the new maps. “I think it’s much more logical and sensible than what was done ten years ago,” he said. But he asked lawmakers to respect county lines and natural features like rivers.

Speaking from Guilford Co., Brenda Formo agreed, saying the new maps “more fairly represent the people of North Carolina” than current maps do.

And in Wilmington, former GOP state senator Woody White praised Republican leaders for holding the statewide public meeting. “Typically, it’s done in private with little input except from partisan lawyers and party bosses. In our state, this has never been done before now.”

But Democrats (and the occasional Republican) protested the maps are gerrymandered to favor Republicans to an “unprecedented degree.”

Bruce Springthorpe from Guilford Co. called the proposal “an abomination of the principles of representative government.” He protested the drawing of districts to favor one party or the other. “I don’t want my representative or his party to be assured of re-election.”

Other critics, including the joint Democratic caucus,, complained the map would essentially resegregate nearly half of the state’s African-American voters into three districts, reducing their influence in surrounding districts.

State NAACP President Rev. William Barber called the plan “bold and bodacious in its attempt to stack and pack" minority voters.

Barber also criticized the removal of five VRA counties – Gates, Washington, Beaufort, Craven, and Wayne – from the 1st District, which he said will dilute the political power of those counties’ African-American communities.

“It is a perversion of the Voting Rights Act of 1965,” Barber said. “And we will meet you in court.”

But Republicans insist the plan is legal under the Voting Rights Act, and they expect a court will agree.

Lead GOP Redistricting attorney Brent Woodcox says even though the map takes five VRA counties out of the 1st district, it puts in two others – Franklin and Nash. “The retrogression standard is statewide,” Woodcox said. “It’s a question of trade-off, and it’s one that affects the entire map.”

Watch Woodcox explain at right. 

Carved up

The most heated comments of the night came from citizens of cities who stand to be divided up into multiple districts under the new plan.

Cliff Moone is the tenth district Democratic chair in Catawba. He objected to “the unprecedented balkanization of my hometown, Hickory,” a town of 40,000 that would be split into three congressional districts.

“How can this insanity be necessary?” he asked.

“There is no way that what you have done to Hickory meets election law,” added independent Judith Ivester. “This is not democracy, this is revenge.”

The speakers in Buncombe County were even more upset. The maps would cut Asheville out of the 11th District entirely, tacking it onto the 10th District that stretches toward Charlotte.

Haywood Democrat Janie Benson echoed many other speakers in arguing that Asheville is the economic and cultural hub of its district, where it’s been since 1792. Removing Asheville from the 11th, Benson said, would be like “removing the heart of a person.”

Tom Chumley in Charlotte protested that the 11th “has been the most competitive in the country throughout the years.”

“All this district needs to do was gain 30,000 people,” said Chumley. “Taking Asheville out of the district is crazy.”

Senate Redistricting chair Bob Rucho said the splitting up of cities was intentional, done to ensure “diverse interests” in urban areas would be represented by more than one congressmember.

Rucho also said the committee would review concerns about compliance with the Voting Rights Act, as well as the 84 people in Hickory who appear to have been put into a third congressional district. Rucho said the latter may have been inadvertent.  Watch his unedited comments at right.

The legislature will vote on the maps later this month. Approval requires only a majority vote. The governor does not have veto power over redistricting. 

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