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Decoding Redistricting for Durham

By Frank Hyman

It's bad news for Durham civic life if we have to give up multi-member legislative districts.As we go to press the Legislature has been called into a special session to redraw Senate and House district lines. The N.C. Supreme Court has charged the Legislature to eliminate multi-member districts--like the ones that serve Durham and Orange Counties--and to minimize the splitting of counties. The court's order is in conflict with the Democratic Party's interpretation of the Voting Right's Act, so at their request the U.S. Supreme Court may overrule an appeal.

It's anybody's guess if that will happen or whether the Legislature will have the votes to meet the state court's May 20 deadline.

As you read this, the Legislature may have approved a redrawn map that might or might not satisfy the N.C. Supreme Court and the plaintiffs--the Republican Party.

The biggest change in store for Durham would be a switch from the long-held multi-member districts for the House (3 seats) and Senate (2 seats) to five or more single member districts. This would mean dividing up the county in such a way that each candidate will be campaigning among fewer voters, over a smaller piece of Durham and in all likelihood against just one other candidate for one seat.

Contrast that with the present system where an open-ended number of candidates run countywide for 2 Senate seats or 3 House seats in their party's primary and then battle it out again in November with hopes of staying in the winner's circle for the top 2 or 3 seats.

The present election system isn't too different from how Durham City Council candidates and Durham County Commission candidates are chosen in a system described as "at-large": Candidates run citywide or countywide for the chance to win one of several open seats. Several City Council seats are won, in one-on-one races, but the critical point is that they still must get votes from throughout the city rather than from a small part of it.

So what's the downside to splitting Durham's delegation into smaller, single-member districts? Won't they be closer to their constituents? Won't they be more accountable to the grassroots and somehow easier to relate to? A reasonable answer to all three questions could be "yes."

But there's another question that I believe is much more critical in defining the quality of Durham's civic life: Will future Durham candidates for House and Senate still have to cobble together coalitions of voters in order to win election as they have in the past? Or will successful politicians of the future win by picking up the backing of the single largest constituency in their corner of the county?

I think the answer to those questions can be found by looking at the rather revealing track record of the Durham School Board.

The Durham School Board continually sets a new low for civil behavior and has split many times along racial lines. Perhaps the single largest contributing factor is an election structure that allows candidates to rely on a single constituency to ensure their election. And re-election.

Compared to many communities, Durham has a well-organized citizenry. Five organizations that span the political spectrum weigh in on Election Day using candidate interviews, endorsements, mailings, ads and get-out-the-vote efforts. The two largest are the Friends of Durham (FoD) and the Durham Committee on the Affairs of Black People (DCABP). The former is overwhelmingly white and conservative, the latter exclusively black and somewhat liberal. Three smaller organizations are all largely to overwhelmingly white: the moderate Durham Voters Alliance, the progressive Durham People's Alliance and the local chapter of the environmentalist Sierra Club.

Durham's elections for City Council, County Commission and the legislative delegation deliver a sometimes freewheeling mix and match of political group endorsements and odd bedfellow coalitions that spawn candidates with an ability to work together across lines of race, class and ideology.

Elections in the the single member districts of the school board, on the other hand, have a stodgy predictability about them. In the three largely white districts every candidate endorsed by the FoD has soared to an anticlimactic victory. In the three largely black districts every candidate endorsed by the DCABP has vanquished opponents who don't seem to be terribly surprised at the outcome.

In hindsight, this scenario seems to guarantee the creation of a festival of finger pointing. But these districts were the critical compromise that allowed Durham to move forward on the more important issue of merging the city and county school systems. Education activists and political leaders of that time wisely wanted to ensure that there would be adequate representation by African Americans on the board.

In a sense they did their job too well. The city of Durham is just under 50 percent black. The county is just under 40 percent black. Without fail, the school board's single-member district arrangement has conferred both representation and perennial minority status to African-American leaders. Three of the board's seven seats have consistently been held by blacks.

Interestingly, of Durham's governing bodies that are elected either in multi-member districts--like the legislative delegation--or in similar at-large races--like the County Commission and City Council--African Americans hold the majority of seats: three of the five delegate seats, three of five County Commission seats and five of seven City Council seats. This isn't a fluke. The city and county leadership has been majority black off and on for more than a decade.

But the racial makeup is only the most obvious contrast created by these two different election formats. The people serving in those three bodies elected in community-wide elections share a reputation for working successfully together and haven't split their votes along racial lines. Aside from the nature of the individuals involved, the main reason for this difference is that they all have to garner support from an assortment of coalitions representing Durham's entire political spectrum. They must then maintain that coalition in order to get re-elected. In city or countywide elections in Durham, candidates either need black and white voters together or they need conservatives and liberals.

In Durham, no coalition means no victory party on Tuesday night.

The consistent teamwork shown by Durham's senators and representatives has brought the community millions of dollars of state money for the Museum of Life and Science, Durham Tech and N.C. Central University. When local officials sought revenue to pay for a downtown theater our legislators overcame opposition to taxing the hotel industry rather than using regressive sales and property taxes. They're now working as a team to protect the local environment by supporting a North Durham Parkway instead of the infamous Eno Drive.

In response to the scramble to draw new districts in Durham, one legislator quipped that self-preservation was the first law of nature. Given that reality and the likelihood that single-member districts will eliminate the need for coalition building, what are the chances that Durham will be able to count on a team of legislators who will work together in fighting regressive tax policies in Raleigh or crafting a merger of city and county governments or in supporting additional revenue for struggling schools?

I suspect that given the school board's history, it's reasonable to expect that dividing Durham into half-a-dozen single member districts for House and Senate could leave us, over time, with delegates who have safe seats that don't require coalition politics.

Without a system that requires the hard work of building coalitions, I believe Durham can look forward to civic life in a house divided.

--Frank Hyman is a former Durham City Councilman.

The Shop Local Map Movement
Response to Carolyn Fanelli's pledge to shop chain-free has created something of a rallying cry from those who want to do the same (see "Living Chain-free," May 8). Readers have contacted The Independent looking for a way to find out more about how they can join Fanelli in her boycott of chain stores.

To this, Fanelli says, "I'm glad to hear there was such a positive response to the article! We have been in touch with the American Independent Business Alliance and intend to begin an independent business alliance in the Triangle area. Our plans include printing and distributing our list of independent stores, updating this list monthly, and creating a Web site."

Edward Cherry, a cartographer who grew up in the Chapel Hill-Carrboro area, called the Indy to say he'd love to donate his services to help create a map that allows consumers to find locally owned stores all over the Triangle.

If such a map were created, could you buy them in bulk at Costco? We doubt it.

To contact Fanelli, e-mail her at
--David Madison

The Others
With voting primaries on the horizon, now is a prime time to take a look at what choices voters really have when it comes to supporting candidates who aren't Democrats or Republicans. What are "the others" doing to prep themselves for the election season? And where do the state's third parties stand on the redistricting issue?There are four major third parties in North Carolina: the Green Party, Libertarian Party, Reform Party and Natural Law Party. Others exist, but these groups have the most members and best chances of getting a candidate elected or influencing policy. They may be unable to compete with the two major parties now, but these grassroots organizations are fizzing over with their own activity.

Having been recognized in North Carolina for more than 20 years, the Libertarian Party is our oldest political alternative. It is the only third party currently on the ballot. They got there by gathering signatures, something all third parties must do if they fail to register enough qualifying votes in previous elections.

Libertarians are appalled at the current redistricting fight. Sean Hughes, executive Director of the Libertarian Party of North Carolina and a candidate for U.S. Senate, says, "Libertarians favor responsible districting or even multi-member districts with population-based proportional representation." In this model, districts would have multiple representatives with the number of representatives from each district based on population. It works like this: If a district has five open seats and seven candidates, voters have five votes. A voter can vote for five different candidates, send all five votes to one, or split the votes between candidates as he/she sees fit. The Green Party backs this approach too.

The Greens have been exceptionally active on the national scene. Ralph Nader made solid runs at the presidency in 1996 and in 2000 where he finished third despite not being on the ballot in N.C. and two other states. Like the Libertarians, the grassroots-based Greens are against redistricting and support the proportional representation approach. A unique tenet of the Greens is their support of publicly funded elections that allow only minimal private contribution. The idea is to take the money out of politics and allow equal access to the process.

On this issue, the Green approach is a direct contrast to that of the N.C. Reform Party, which has come a long way since the Ross Perot revolution of the early '90s. Though the group may be splintered nationally, the N.C. chapter is alive and well under the stewardship of Chairman Cleve Pete. Pete describes his organization as "a group of people who believe in America first."

Pete is firmly against any attempts at redistricting. He considers it an attempt at "race-based manipulation" (of the election process) and contrary to our basic democratic principles." The Reform Party has no candidates on the ballot this fall because their gubernatorial candidate failed to achieve the state requirement of at least 10 percent of the vote--one of the nation's toughest voting laws--in the last general election. Because of these types of voting laws, the Green, Reform and Natural Law parties are largely on the sidelines this year, relegated to candidate support, issue raising and filing lawsuits.

Norio Kushi and Jerry Colette of the Natural Law Party of North Carolina are in the process of filing suit against the N.C. Board of Elections for its restrictive laws on fundraising issues and ballot access. (Ralph Nader filed a similar, unsuccessful suit in 2000.) Under the auspices of the Movement for Democratic Change in North Carolina, Kushi and Collete think that they have put in the work to win the suit. However, Kushi doesn't have much hope at winning the race for U.S. Senate, which he is running for as an independent. He'd like to run on the Natural Law ticket, but his party is not recognized under the state's restrictive ballot-access laws.
--Joshua Grinstead Nealy Fest
The Mountain Sports Festival, an all-out adrenaline orgy held in and around Asheville, invites climbers, mountain bikers, paddlers and runners to compete in a variety of events May 31-June 2 ( Appropriately, this year's festival is dedicated to the memory of Illustrator William Nealy, who lived and worked with his wife Holly Wallace at their home in Orange County until last summer when he committed suicide. Nealy made a career out of teaching people how to kayak, mountain bike and inline skate (see "Goodbye William," April 17). His instructional drawings, maps and hilarious cartoons struck a chord with anyone involved in the activities celebrated each year at the Mountain Sports Festival.If only he were still here to join the fun.

Emergency contraception--or "the morning after pill" as it's more commonly called--is safer than aspirin, reduces the chance of pregnancy after unprotected sex by 75 percent or more and keeping it in the medicine cabinet of all women in the country could prevent up to 1.5 million pregnancies and 800,000 abortions every year. So why aren't women lining up to stock their cabinets with this backup form of birth control?

Shaina Gross, the Dial EC Coordinator for the Planned Parenthood of Orange and Durham Counties, says the disconnect between need and use is a result of " ... lack of awareness. They know they had unprotected sex, but they don't know there's a backup method."

The problem is made worse by a lack of access, both to physicians that must prescribe the medication for use within 72 hours of sex--a difficult task on a Friday night--and a shortage of pharmacies that keep the medication stocked. Gross reports that of 79 pharmacies in Raleigh, only 15 have the medication on hand. Wal-Mart, the pharmacy of choice for many women, refuses to carry emergency contraception at any of its stores.

Planned Parenthood is working to combat both these problems by initiating a strong outreach program. The organization is working with local campuses and hospitals to make sure women know this backup method exists and health-care providers know to recommend the method and discuss it with their patients. Gross pointed to a study conducted by the UNC School of Public Health, which found that 72 percent of family practice physicians never talked to their patients about emergency contraception, even when discussing their contraception options. Rape victims are often unaware that this backup method of preventing a pregnancy even exists. Planned Parenthood has been working with sexual assault nurse examiners (or SANE nurses) in emergency rooms and rape crisis centers to ensure that emergency contraception is made an option for every woman who is the victim of rape.

But the problem of access is a bit more difficult to solve, and as a result, Planned Parenthood of Orange and Durham Counties has established an Emergency Contraception hotline. By calling the number after unprotected sex (or simply to get the medicine for future use) women will speak with a specialist who will pass the information along to a licensed clinician who will fax the prescription along to a pharmacy within five hours of the initial call.

The hotline makes the process of obtaining emergency contraception much closer to the ease with which women should be able to procure it. As Elizabeth Raymond, a volunteer physician with Planned Parenthood, points out, "The indication for this method is unprotected sex. ... Women are the best people to decide whether they need the drug and when."

In addition to the fact that only individual women know when they need the drug, the dose is the same for all women and the side effects of taking the drug are practically nonexistent. Some women might experience nausea, breast tenderness, and headaches. In other words, the side effects of a monthly period.

There is a petition being considered by the FDA that would approve emergency contraception for over-the-counter status. The petition was signed by more than 60 organizations, including the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Nurses Association and the American Public Health Association. Additionally, Rep. Connie Morella (R-Md.), has sponsored a bill that would require all hospitals receiving federal funds to inform sexual assault victims of the availability of emergency contraception.

But until either of these changes occurs, it's a good idea to stock up on emergency contraception just in case. You can do so by calling the Dial EC hotline at (866) 942-7762 or by going by a Planned Parenthood clinic, which sells EC for $15.
--Jenny Stepp Send all digs, ribs, jabs, barbs and tips to: or call David Madison at 286-1972 ext. 154.

Trotline is illustrated by V.C. Rogers.


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