To Be Rather Than to Seem
Last week, the Republicans in the General Assembly failed to meet North Carolina’s basic standard: Esse Quam Videri. Our state motto. To be rather than to seem.
The Republican majority drew new congressional districts that look nice on paper. Unfortunately, they seem better than they are. In a state divided nearly 50-50 between Democrats and Republicans, the new maps were designed to keep a 10-3 advantage for Republicans in our congressional delegation. The chief architect of the Republican maps told us he would have made the margin 11-2 if he could have figured out how.
A few small changes could have produced one of the most balanced maps in the country. Say 3 districts that lean towards Democrats, 3 that lean towards Republicans, and 7 that might be competitive in an average year.
The Republicans bragged that the new map was drawn without any consideration for race. That could mean that the map will fail to meet the standards set in Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, which means we haven’t seen the end of the court’s involvement in this case. If the new map does stand, North Carolina’s congressional delegation seems likely to become less diverse in both race and gender.
While fewer counties are divided on the new maps, it is interesting to note that almost all urban counties are. This strategy makes it particularly difficult to see where African-American or other non-white candidates might win in these maps. Democratic Representative Alma Adams of Greensboro seems to have been a particular target. She was drawn out of her district by more than 100 miles, as it is now entirely in Mecklenburg County. If Republicans had wanted to protect her in the way they protected their own incumbents, they could have simply combined the Triad counties into one district. Instead, they are divided into three.
Adding to the facade are the new election rules. A few of the new districts seem like stepping stones for state legislators, and for the first time ever legislators will be able to keep their legislative seats while running for Congress. Another change was to eliminate run-off elections this year, so someone could win a primary without getting anywhere close to majority support. And is it any surprise that both of this year’s primary dates (March 15 and June 7) happen when most college students won’t be on campus?
All of this adds up to another election where hundreds of thousands of North Carolinians will become even more frustrated by the political system. I know the Republicans have a clear intellectual rationale for what they have done, but do they have a moral one?
The immediate next step is that these maps will be reviewed by the District Court. They can accept the new maps, direct the legislature to draw another set of maps, or draw their own maps. In the meantime, taxpayers continue to pay the cost of the prolonged litigation.
What we really need is an independent, non-partisan redistricting process. I was proud to sponsor a bill in 2015 (House Bill 49) which would have given us just that.