Proposed NC Senate districts have Republican tinge

Republican legislators on Tuesday released a proposed map for state Senate districts for the next decade that would appear to help the GOP retain its newly-formed majority while giving more political influence to areas in or around Raleigh.

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Proposed map of NC Senate districts
, Associated Press
RALEIGH, N.C. — Republican legislators on Tuesday released a proposed map for state Senate districts for the next decade that would appear to help the GOP retain its newly-formed majority while giving more political influence to areas in or around Raleigh.

The draft of the districts for the 50 Senate seats changes current boundaries to reflect a population increase of 1.5 million people in the state since 2000 and the power Republicans now have since winning a majority in the chamber last fall for the first time in 140 years.

A proposal of the House's 120 districts, expected later in the day, was likely to reflect identical changes. The law requires each Senate and House district to be nearly equal in population — Senate districts of roughly 191,000 people and House districts of about 79,500 people.

The maps also would place five pairs of incumbent senators in the same proposed district, meaning they could potentially face each other in a primary or general election in 2012. In one district, current Senate leader Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, and Sen. Don Vaughan, D-Guilford, would be in the same two-county district whose voting patterns would appear to favor Berger. The five pairs would mean no incumbent lives in five other proposed districts.

Berger, who hasn't had much Democratic opposition in recent election cycles, said people shouldn't be shocked that he went into the same district as Vaughan. The maps reflect boundary restrictions set by the U.S. Supreme Court, state constitution and federal voting rights laws, Berger said.

"I've been telling folks I'm not drawing these maps," Berger said in an interview. "For those who didn't believe me you need to look at these maps."

The Senate map would increase the number of senators from four to five who would represent Wake County, which saw a 43 percent population increase over the past decade. Johnston County, adjoining Raleigh, also would be represented by a second senator. Johnston County grew by 38 percent. Mecklenburg County would remain at five senators, while Charlotte's bedroom communities in Union County would remain at two senators.

Counties that didn't grow as fast as the state average lost representation. Guilford in the Piedmont and Haywood in the mountains would have one fewer senator under the proposed plan.

Election data of recent statewide races presented with the Senate maps — often an indicator of how districts would perform in future elections — put Republicans in a comfortable situation to keep control of the Senate.

Republican John McCain would have led Democrat Barack Obama in 33 of the 50 proposed Senate districts had they been in place in the 2008 election, while Republican Pat McCrory would have won more votes than Democrat Beverly Perdue in 27 of the 50 districts in the gubernatorial race that same year.

The four other pairs of Senate incumbents who would be placed in the same proposed districts are Republican Pete Brunstetter and Democrat Linda Garrou in Forsyth County; Democrats Ellie Kinnaird and Bob Atwater in Chatham and Orange counties; Republicans Jerry Tillman and Harris Blake in Moore County and portions of Randolph County; and Republicans Debbie Clary and Warren Daniel in Burke and Cleveland counties. Clary already has announced she's leaving the Senate this year.

The chairmen of the redistricting committees released maps last month for more than 30 state House and Senate seats they say allow black voters to elect favored candidates. In a statement, Sen. Bob Rucho, R-Mecklenburg and Rep. David Lewis, R-Harnett, said they adjusted some of the districts that contained majority black voting populations in response to comments received in public hearings.

The House map will rework a proposed district that would cover four southeastern counties stretching from rural Bladen County to downtown Wilmington, the statement said.

"Our primary goal is to propose maps that will survive any possible legal challenge," the statement said.

Democrats complain Republican mapmakers go too far in amassing a high percentage of black registered voters in certain, blotched-shaped districts to isolate them and make surrounding districts benefit Republican candidates more. A new state Senate district, for example, would combine Hoke County with portions of Cumberland County with an outline that resembles a bird's talon.

"The grotesque shapes of some of these districts are absolutely repulsive," said Sen. Dan Blue, D-Wake. "They're shaped that way without any forceful legal reason for it ... other than maximizing the Republican probabilities of winning districts."

Minority leader Joe Hackney released a statement Tuesday night saying that "Republicans continue to look backwards as they plan for the future of North Carolina."

"Their redistricting proposal cynically reflects a time decades ago when our state had very little African-American representation and when the racial divide in politics was more the norm than the exception," Hackney's statement continued. "Whether the Republicans like it or not, North Carolina has changed for the better in the past 30 years."

The General Assembly is expected to approve legislative and congressional maps by July 28. A legislative session designed to vote on the districts was scheduled to begin Wednesday. A public hearing on the General Assembly district proposal was set for next Monday.

Perdue has no formal role in redistricting. Congressional and legislative maps aren't subject to a governor's veto and only need passage by simple majority votes in the chambers for final passage. U.S. Justice Department attorneys or the federal courts would still have to sign off on the plans by confirming they comply with federal Voting Rights Act rules so that blacks and other minority voters aren't in a worse situation than under the current maps or can elect the candidates of their choice. Litigation by outside groups is also likely.

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