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GOP’s new lines and a lucky 13

May 6, 2012 

Already it feels like a foreign country. And we haven’t even moved!

For the 30 years and counting that my family and I have lived in North Carolina, we’ve been assigned to the 4th Congressional District. But this year, after the big redistricting shake-up, surprise! Who would have thunk it, but we’re being shifted into the 13th.

So after the election in November, it’s practically a mortal lock that our new representative in Congress will be one of the two very conservative Republicans now engaged in their farcical efforts to paint each other as wussy liberals. Their campaign brawl leading up to Tuesday’s primary is really funny – except the thought of trading David Price for either Paul Coble or George Holding to speak for us on Capitol Hill is, well, sobering.

We’ve been in the domain of Republican congressmen before, although it’s been awhile. Bill Cobey, the former UNC-Chapel Hill athletics director, served a term before Price sent him home in 1986. Then Price tasted defeat at the hands of Raleigh Police Chief Fred Heineman in the 1994 GOP landslide – only to turn the tables two years later and regain the seat he has held ever since.

Nothing against either Cobey or the late chief, but people who voted for Price could feel as if this was one little thing they were doing to encourage humane, intelligent lawmaking. Believe it or not, those terms don’t have to be oxymorons.

With Democrats in the General Assembly drawing the lines, the 4th District was shaped so that in latter years, Price was the clear favorite. GOP-leaning precincts such as mine in Cary were sent along for the ride.

Now, the 4th has been purged of as much Republican territory as Republican legislators who drew the latest maps could manage.

My neighborhood has been sutured into the radically reconfigured 13th – once the preserve of Democratic Rep. Brad Miller (who conveniently engineered the district’s shape when he was a legislator) and now a happy hunting ground for candidates who revile President Obama’s health care reform, think tax cuts are the government’s path to salvation and can hardly utter the word “regulation” without choking. Such as Coble and Holding.

In their determination to wring every possible ounce of partisan advantage from their wonderful new maps, members of the General Assembly’s GOP majority hacked and whacked precincts, turned districts inside out and left many voters no doubt to wonder if their registration card had been filled out by a random number generator.

Our friends at Democracy North Carolina crunched the data to come up with what they’re calling the “Voter Confusion Index.” It ranks counties according to how many precincts have been split to fashion the current legislative and congressional districts, and also by the number of precincts assigned to new districts. The overall index considers county size as well.

Of the counties where voters – and elections officials – are most likely to be confused by all the changes, most are in the east and center of the state. Only three of the top 24 are west of the Triangle and the U.S. 1 corridor. (Those would be the metro counties of Forsyth, Guilford and Mecklenburg – lots of voters, lots of potential for election day mix-ups.)

Durham came in the third highest, or most problematic, of the state’s 100 counties. Johnston was 6th, Franklin 8th, Lee 11th and Wake 16th. Chatham and Orange were well down the list.

Wake County now has 85 out of 191 precincts that are split between districts (legislative or congressional). That means different sets of ballots at the same polling place. And 136 precincts, or about two-thirds, have been moved into different congressional districts. So there will be plenty of voters and members of Congress becoming newly acquainted.

All this boundary shuffling, to the GOP’s advantage, has summoned forth a bumper crop of Republican candidates – perhaps nowhere as notably as in Wake. Not only is Coble trying to move up from his post as chairman of the county commissioners, but his colleague Tony Gurley wants the GOP nomination for lieutenant governor.

And on the Wake school board, where Republicans last fall lost their majority, three of those left holding the fort figured they’d rather head for the hills. Chris Malone is running for the state House, John Tedesco thinks he’d make a good state superintendent of public instruction, and Debra Goldman for some reason sees herself as best suited to be the next state auditor.

As for Coble and Holding, it’s as if two Southern gentlemen slipped off their tasseled loafers and tried to beat each other’s brains out in the front parlor of the Cardinal Club.

I’ll be curious to see how Tuesday’s vote on the marriage amendment turns out, and whom the Democrats tap as their favorite for the governor’s mansion. But sleep won’t come easy until this question is answered: Which Republican will be my next congressman?

Editorial page editor Steve Ford can be reached at 919-829-4512 or at steve.ford@newsobserver.com.

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