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Thursday, March 5, 2015

NC Senate bill would change the way Wake County Commissioners are elected

Posted by on Thu, Mar 5, 2015 at 1:34 PM

Updated: S181 was heard in the Senate Redistricting Committee Thursday afternoon. Wake County Commissioners James West, Sig Hutchinson, John Burns and Matt Calabria spoke against the bill; former Commissioner J.T. Knott and four rural Wake residents spoke in favor. Committee chair Sen. Bob Rucho said Wake residents can speak to the bill at the committee's next meeting on March 10, between 3 and 5 pm. 

Democrats swept the Wake County Board of Commissioners races last fall so a conservative Wake County Senator introduced a bill that would no longer allow commissioners to run countywide.

Senate Bill 181, introduced by Chad Barefoot of Wake Forest this week, increases the Wake County Board of Commissioners seats from seven to nine and “alters” (read gerrymanders) the commissioners’ districts to coincide with the Wake County Board of Education’s, which were redrawn along partisan lines in 2013.

The bill would kick in for the 2016 election for Districts 4, 5 and 6, and voters would only be allowed to vote for two candidates, one from the district in which they reside and one at large representative of half of the county.

Barefoot told reporters Wednesday that constituents in rural Wake County are worried about losing representation under the countywide election system and that as the county’s population has swelled from 300,000 to more than a million people in recent years, countywide elections no longer make sense. He said the bill would increase geographic diversity and would end “outrageously expensive” countywide campaigns.

Barefoot, a veritable master of irony, has himself run two of the most expensive legislative campaigns in the state’s recent history. In his 2012 race for the Senate District 18 race against Dour Berger, and in his 2014 race against Sarah Crawford, the GOP spent more than $1 million to get Barefoot elected.

Wake County Democrats are upset about the bill.

Raleigh Senator Josh Stein said the voters of Wake County are being disrespected and called the bill “a very distressing and depressing development” on his Twitter account.

First-term County Commissioner John Burns said in an email that he has never seen anything like the bill in all his years in politics.

“The people of Wake County deserve a government which is ready to take on challenges and deliver on a bold vision which will continue to make Wake County the world-class place to live that it is for generations to come,” Burns wrote.

“I am proud to be a part of this forward thinking team and I pledge to work with you to deliver. But this bill puts everything we worked so hard for at risk, just to keep playing political games.”


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