The odd shapes of the GOP congressional redistricting plan | North Carolina | Indy Week
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The odd shapes of the GOP congressional redistricting plan 

The "fair and legal" assurances made by North Carolina Republicans since the redistricting process began were challenged directly last week at a marathon nine-location public hearing on the proposed congressional map, and earlier in the day when the Democrats released their response to the plan, terming it "divide and conquer."

The Rev. William Barber, president of the state NAACP, said he had mixed emotions about appearing at the Raleigh hearing. He knew that the GOP had the votes to pass the plan and that Gov. Bev Perdue has no veto power on redistricting. However, he said he chose to register his objections on the record because the map will be subject to a court review. "It's not over," he said.

Barber promised a legal fight and called the plan, which was released July 1, "bold and bodacious in its plan to stack and pack."

"We voice our objection and our indignation ... This General Assembly is engaged in an unseemly effort to segregate African-Americans and submerge our political influence into two districts," Barber said during the teleconferenced hearing. "It is a shameful, wrong, regressive act. It's a perversion of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and we will meet you in court."

Sen. Bob Rucho, who, with Rep. David Lewis, drew up the plan, responded with a simple, "Thanks for your comments," during the public hearings that the GOP touts as the largest effort to collect feedback from voters in redistricting history.

Seven Democrats and six Republicans represent North Carolina in the House. The GOP plan dims the chance of re-election for four House Democrats: Mike McIntyre, Larry Kissell, Brad Miller and Heath Shuler.

The 13 districts do meet the requirement of "one person, one vote" with each containing 733,499 people, plus or minus one, but it's how those numbers were achieved that causes concern.

Four U.S. congressional districts—1, 3, 4 and 12—would have higher percentages of blacks of voting age than the state total of 20.6 percent.

In District 1, 50.4 percent of people would be African-Americans of voting age while District 12 would have 49.4 percent, underscoring the theory that the GOP is clustering African-Americans, who vote largely Democratic.

The 4th Congressional District, composed of parts of Orange, Durham, Wake, Harnett and Cumberland counties, now represented by David Price, is considered safe for Democrats; it would be 28.2 percent black. In District 3, it would be almost a quarter.

Those who say that race should not factor in modern elections should note that black voters make up 41.4 percent of registered N.C. Democrats and less than 2 percent of the state's registered Republicans.

Lucia Messina, of Democracy N.C. and Alliance for Fair Redistricting and Minority Voting Rights, said the maps are driven by partisanship, not fairness.

"We will undoubtedly be in court. We are being followed by every major newspaper," Messina said. "It may not mean anything to anybody else, but nobody wants to be a laughingstock."

Other complaints came from Hickory, a town of 40,583 northwest of Charlotte that's being apportioned into three districts. Eighty-four Hickory residents would reside in District 11, compared to 20,578 in District 5 and 19,348 in District 10.

Walter Moone, 10th District Democratic Party Chairman, said the maps are "if legal, nonetheless unconscionable" and particularly noted the "balkanization of Hickory."

"How can this insanity be necessary?" he asked.

Many also decried the removal of the progressive-leaning Asheville from Democrat Heath Shuler's 11th District, noting that the city anchors the western part of the state and that it's been tied to its current district for decades. Asheville would fall in District 10, led by ultraconservative Rep. Patrick McHenry.

Asheville City Councilman Cecil Bothwell called the shift "completely irrational."

"There no way that a representative from the Piedmont represents what I consider to be my home," he said.

Jessica Holmes, redistricting organizer for the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, reads between the lines when she hears Republicans say that their proposed districts allow for "increased competitiveness."

"Their translation of 'more competitive' is 'more likely to elect a Republican candidate,'" said Holmes.

The alliance has offered its own maps, which it says don't stack or pack.

Republican supporters turned out in greater numbers last week than in prior hearings, eager to change the narrative.

Lee County Commissioner Jim Womack said "the vast majority of the work is to be applauded." He added that changes to Lee County, which except for a northeastern sliver that would be part of District 4, now put it in District 6, are "about as well-conceived as I could have hoped." District 6 is represented by Republican Howard Coble.

Others said the maps could be worse and that their votes will matter more now, especially in rural districts.

But, Holmes noted, several citizens who identified themselves as Republicans offered small critiques of their own proposed districts while at the same time lending support to the overall plan. Some said the process was about what was "possible," not what was "perfect."

"Their concerns came secondary to their party affiliation," Holmes said. "They are choosing partisanship over truth."

Supporters of the new map argued that the Democrats drew lines favorable to the party when it was in charge of the process, and this is only payback; yet Brent Laurenz of North Carolinians for Redistricting Reform says it doesn't have to be that way.

He favors reworking the process into a bipartisan or citizen-driven commission, omitting the politicians.

"It doesn't matter who is in charge. When the Democrats were in charge we had the same problems," he said. "It's hard to have confidence when politicians are drawing their own districts."

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