Dems ready to challenge redistricting maps

November 1, 2011 

The U.S. Justice Department could decide as early as today whether to approve North Carolina's new Republican-drawn voting districts or send them back for changes.

If they're approved, Democrats and a handful of independent groups are poised to challenge the districts in court. A prolonged court fight could delay N.C. elections in 2012, just as similar challenges did in 1998 and 2002. Previous challenges have resulted in redrawings.

Republicans are confident the Justice Department will approve, or "pre-clear," their new congressional and legislative voting districts.

"We're very optimistic about the feedback we've gotten," said Sen. Bob Rucho, a Matthews Republican who chairs the Senate Redistricting Committee. "I had an interview with Justice, and (House) Chairman (David) Lewis had an interview, and we felt very comfortable."

But critics of the plans are ready to go to court.

"We are gearing up for the long haul in terms of the battle," said Conen Morgan, a spokesman for the state Democratic Party. "We're not going to allow these maps to be upheld in court without a legal battle."

Both House and Senate Democrats are preparing lawsuits.

So are independent groups, led by the Durham-based Southern Coalition for Social Justice.

"I don't think it's any big secret that we're going to challenge the maps, the only secret is how we're going to challenge them," said Chris Ketchie, a policy analyst for the coalition.

Any challenges are likely to focus on two points.

The coalition and its allies are expected to argue that the GOP-written plans illegally segregate minority voters.

"Our organization is concerned about the way the plans are essentially segregating and promoting segregation of voters in ways not consistent with the Voting Rights Act," said Bob Hall, director of Democracy North Carolina, which plans to join a suit.

The party groups are also expected to argue about the number of split precincts and what they call the failure to observe "communities of interest."

"We feel we have very strong arguments for these," said Senate Minority Leader Martin Nesbitt, an Asheville Democrat.

Crisco at the GOP fish fry

A high-ranking official in Gov. Bev Perdue's administration turned a few heads Friday when he attended a local Republican party fundraiser in Randolph County.

A local politico event snapped a photo of Commerce Secretary Keith Crisco talking to people at the Richard Petty Fish Fry, an annual fundraiser for the county GOP organization.

But an administration spokesman explained that it was familiar turf for Crisco, who lives in Asheboro.

"This shouldn't be surprising for two reasons," Commerce spokesman Tim Crowley said. "One, Secretary Crisco has frequented the Richard Petty Fish Fry for many years. He did attend again this year. Second, he has worked with Republicans on a regular basis to create jobs for all North Carolinians."

Foxx may face competitor

Treva Johnson, the chairman of the Wilkes County Democratic Party, is exploring a possible challenge against Republican 5th District Rep. Virginia Foxx next year.

Johnson, 40, of Roaring Gap, is state director of Omni Visions, an agency that handles foster care and other social services. She said she would decide in the coming weeks about whether to make her first run for political office.

"Frankly, I am sick and tired of the games being played in Washington, and I believe that most people in our region agree with me," Johnson said. "So I am exploring the possibility of putting my name before the voters to go to Washington to apply new blood and effort to turning this deadlocked system around."

The 5th District leans Republican, but was made less so under the redistricting plan drawn up by the GOP-led legislature. The district includes Alexander, Alleghany, Ashe, Davie, Stokes, Surry, Watauga, Wilkes, Yadkin and parts of Forsyth, Iredell, and Rockingham counties.

Christensen: 919-829-4532

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