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Members of both the Senate and House redistricting committees heard from leaders of the Durham County Democratic and Republican parties, the chairwoman of the school board, and members of several neighborhood and activist groups at a public hearing last week.
The event took place at the N.C. School of Science and Mathematics where community members offered, as Senate Redistricting Committee Chairman Bob Rucho requested, "thoughts and dreams about redistricting."
Speakers focused on the importance of keeping the 4th Congressional District, currently served by Rep. David Price, intact and inclusive of all Durham residents; keeping those with common interests together in the same districts; making sure not to slight minorities when drawing the maps; and avoiding partisanship during the process.
Among the comments:
Tracey Burns-Vann, chairwoman of the Durham County Democratic Party, told committee members districts should remain undisturbed as much as possible.
"If Durham is split, it will affect the minority representation of all who historically vote Democratic," she said. "Diversity plays a major role in how we operate. Now is not the time to destroy all of that by splitting us into two congressional districts."
Theodore Hicks, chairman of the Durham County Republican Party, countered that county Republicans are themselves a minority and that the party passed the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments, evoking some laughter from the crowd.
"If you look at those who represent Durham, for the most part, they are Democratic," Hicks said. "Redistricting should bring a more favorable balance to that."
He targeted House District 30, a seat currently held by Rep. Paul Luebke, as ripe for change. Many who live in the district argued that it should be left as is.
Bob Hall, executive director of Democracy NC, based in Durham, reminded committee members of the importance and relevance of the Voting Rights Act, especially in light of the Voter ID bill, and urged them not to "make minority voters worse off than they are now."
"There is a perception that racism no longer exists and that race shouldn't play a part in redistricting," he said. "I'm here to say that that perception is wrong."
Minnie Forte-Brown, chairwoman of the Durham County Board of Education, said that the area is fortunate to have representatives in Raleigh who understand the diversity of Durham. She encouraged committee members to draw lines that give underserved groups an avenue for progress.
"They need a voice, and you have the power to draw lines that will give them that voice," she said.
Justin Valas, a founding member of the N.C. DREAM Team, put it simply.
"The picture is made more vibrant by the inclusion of all colors," he said.
Donald Hughes, president of the Durham County Young Democrats and a past candidate for Durham City Council and the Board of Education, laid out what he views as the committee's goal.
"Prove the pundits wrong," he said. "Show the rest of the nation that here in N.C. we do what's right and not just what's politically expedient."