Map debate gets underway
Posted July 21, 2011 9:09 p.m. EDT
Updated July 22, 2011 7:20 a.m. EDT
Republican redistricting leaders officially rolled out their proposed new maps in committee meetings today. And as expected, Democrats, who don’t fare well under the new maps, gave them a chilly reception.
In fact, today’s three hearings on the congressional, Senate and House maps sounded less like a legislative work session than a prelude to the lawsuit almost certain to follow the maps’ approval next week.
In all three meetings, Democrats hammered Republicans with questions about the way African-American voters have been drawn into new majority-minority districts.
Republicans say the districts are required by the Voting Rights Act, and adding new ones will protect the state from costly lawsuits.But Democrats say GOP leaders are making a concerted effort to group African-American voters into a few Democratic districts in hopes of making surrounding districts more friendly to Republican candidates.
Senator Malcolm Graham, D-Mecklenburg, said African-American lawmakers neither sought nor agree with the creation of new districts with more than 50% minority voters. He says that’s “packing,” and unnecessary to advance minorities’ rights to elect representation of their choice.
“I’ve been elected four times in a district that’s under 50%,” Graham said. “How did that happen?”
“What law says you can go around the state and gather up and isolate all the African-Americans?” Senate Minority Leader Martin Nesbitt followed up.
But Redistricting chairs Rep. David Lewis, R-Harnett, and Sen. Bob Rucho, R-Mecklenburg, told their respective committees the proposed maps are fair, legal, and competitive.
‘We have repeatedly asked our critics for any case law that supports” the allegations of packing, Lewis said. “None has been provided.”
“We believe that our plan as proposed fully complies with Section 5 and Section 2 of the VRA,” he added.
House and Senate Democrats also repeatedly asked Republicans to explain why Democratic representatives were double-bunked.
Asheville Democrat Rep. Susan Fisher, who would be drawn into the same district with Dem Patsy Keever, asked why she had been double-bunked. “It was just a matter of a few yards for the incumbent in 115 [Keever] to remain in her district. What was the legal principle that you based that decision on?”
Lewis answered, “I do not recall exactly how the lines were drawn in Buncombe County. I do recall that we received no input either from yourself or Representative Keever, even after the maps had come out.”
At the prompting of Rep. Nelson Dollar, R-Wake, Lewis added that Democrats in 2002 double-bunked 17 Republicans and 3 Democrats.
Republicans in both chambers blasted Democrats throughout the day for having failed to offer feedback or submit alternate maps. Democrats say they’ll offer their alternatives on the floor next week, but that will be too late for the public to see or weigh in on them.
Democrats accused Republicans of overreaching in drawing an overtly partisan map. Under the congressional proposal, 10 of 13 new districts would offer Republicans an advantage – a big change from the current balance of 7 Democrats and 6 Republicans.
“You all have drawn a map that doesn't respect the fact that we are a 50-50 state," said Senator Josh Stein, D-Wake.
But Senate Majority Leader Harry Brown, R-Onslow, pointed out that the new maps will hurt plenty of Republicans, too. And Senator Jerry Tillman, R-Randolph, insisted that voter registration numbers still give Democrats the edge in most districts, at least on paper.
“Folks, we never had those numbers, never ever in 140 years. And we still won without ‘em,” Tillman told Democrats “You’ve been done much better, and a much better hand has been dealt to you than we ever had. You’ve got races you can win.”