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Map-makers, advocates reflect on public hearings

Posted July 18, 2011 11:59 p.m. EDT
Updated July 19, 2011 7:53 a.m. EDT

After tonight's third and final six-hour public comment hearing on proposed new voting maps, Senate Redistricting Chairman Bob Rucho, R-Mecklenburg, said the series of meetings had fulfilled its purpose.

“I think in time you’ll see the concerns of some of the people that spoke either by letter or over the internet addressed. And that was the whole purpose behind it,” Rucho said.

Rucho said some commenters hadn’t taken the time to understand the process. “It’s a little frustrating to sit there and listen to people who didn’t do their homework and read the little speeches they were given by the different organizations they represent, but didn’t understand what goes into drawing and redistricting House, Senate, and congressional districts.”

Rucho also expressed frustration that Democrats hadn’t offered an alternative plan, even though they were offered time and legal expertise and access to the software. “Here’s the last public hearing today, and not one bit of information came from them,” Rucho said.

“There’s no reason to complain if you didn’t take advantage of the opportunities to be active in the process, but you just sit back and do nothing,” Rucho continued. “At that point, I’m not sure how much validity you have criticizing, because if you didn’t take part in it, there’s no excuse for that type of activity.”

Rucho also called allegations that the GOP redistricting plan had targeted women “absurd. Why would we do that? Why would anybody do that?” he said. “I think that’s ridiculous.”

When asked why the House map disproportionately double-bunks women Democrats, Rucho said he hadn’t been following the House plan closely, but he suggested it could be coincidental. “Is that by purpose, or is that because of the fact that they were living so close together? You know, you follow the law."

Dems: Maps on the Way

Rucho's fellow committee member Senator Floyd McKissick, D-Durham, took issue with Rucho's statements about Democrats' involvement. 

"We are reviewing the maps that were released just a week ago," McKissick said, "but we do have alternatives that I believe will be forthcoming, either at the committee level or on the floor…. certainly from the North Carolina Legislative Black Caucus, and perhaps otherwise as well.” 

In response to Rucho’s criticism about the lack of Democratic input in the process, McKissick said, ”I think that right now, the key persons that we need to hear from were members of the public."  

McKissick thinks the case will eventually end up in the courts. “Personally, I don’t believe they meet the requirements of Section 5 or Section 2” of the Voting Rights Act, he said, “certainly in terms of resegregation of many districts.”

“At the same time, we need to go ahead and get this process moving,” McKissick added. “We need to send the maps to the [U.S.] Justice department, and provide them with some alternatives, and see what they decide."

Reformers: Process is broken

Like Rucho and McKissick, Jane Pinsky with the group North Carolinians for Redistricting Reform has attended all three public hearings on the maps. She said tonight's pointed remarks from voters are a very clear message to lawmakers. 

"The Redistricting Committee needs to listen more to the people, and they should've listened more before the process started," Pinsky said. "They obviously misunderstood what groups of people wanted to be grouped together, and they clearly misunderstood the importance of women elected officials to the women in this state."

Pinsky hopes legislators will redraw the maps this week to reflect commenters' concerns about their communities of interest .

"Obviously, every one of the 9 million people in North Carolina is not going to get a map drawn the way they want it. But it is important that legislators come as close as possible to understanding what the people really see as their interest," Pinsky said. 

"Part of what this process should do is empower citizens to continue to participate in the political process, to not feel that legislators don't listen to them," Pinsky continued. "When they do, then our system loses. And people don't vote, they don't back candidates, they don't care what our government is doing."

Pinsky says the many people who commented tonight about the need to change the process is "a real sign of how unhappy they are with current process. I think the way that we've been promoting, which is House Bill 824, which would have staff do it, which doesn't look at where incumbents live, which doesn't look at the political makeup of an area, might come closer to what citizens want."  

The House has approved H824, but Senate leaders didn't take it up last session, and Rucho said tonight they're not likely to consider it any time in the near future.