Ford: Treasure of votes from GOP maps

steve.ford@newsobserver.comNovember 10, 2012 

George Holding, the new congressman from – well, he lives in Raleigh, but his 13th District is a stitched-together mish-mash of territory that almost defies description except that it’s way different from the old 13th and has lots of Republicans – was candid about his good fortune.

Interviewed by The N&O’s J. Andrew Curliss not long before the returns Tuesday evening showed him rolling to victory, former federal prosecutor Holding told the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

“The district is drawn now in such a way that a Republican almost can’t lose it, and a Democrat can’t win it,” he said. The man whom Holding crushed by a 57 percent to 43 percent margin, the earnestly progressive Charles Malone – who never made headlines dragging Democratic officeholders into court – would corroborate the testimony.

Holding, a Bush administration appointee to his gig as U.S. attorney for Eastern North Carolina, could have been pink-slipped after President Obama took office, as the jobs typically go to members of the president’s party. The Obama Justice Department decided it was smart to keep him around while investigations of former Gov. Mike Easley and Sen. John Edwards played out.

Meanwhile, what amounted to an earthquake struck the General Assembly as Republicans in 2010 captured majorities in both the House and Senate for the first time in forever.

Oh, the timing was sweet, just as voting district boundaries were due to be redrawn following the once-every-decade national census. Now it would be the GOP’s chance to exact revenge for decades of rough treatment by the legislature’s majority Democrats and craft districts, congressional and legislative, that would lock in their party’s newly won gains. Tuesday’s results show just how skillfully, and ruthlessly, they played the game.

Holding happened to be in the right place at the right time. The 13th District had been a Democratic preserve, represented by Brad Miller of Raleigh – not so coincidentally, a state senator and drawer of district maps the last time Democrats were in charge of the process. Was the old district configured so as to give Miller an inside track to Washington? He’d have to plead no contest.

But the Republicans redrew the district out from under him, giving it a strong GOP flavor, and Miller decided to fold a losing hand. All Holding had to do to get his ticket punched for D.C. was to win his party’s nomination. Oops, another conservative Republican had the same idea.

Paul Coble, former Raleigh mayor and current chairman of the Wake County commissioners, may not have worked for U.S. Sen. Jesse Helms as Holding once did. But on that score, Coble could go Holding one better. The late conservative icon was family – his aunt’s husband.

Thus commenced a primary campaign in which each tried to convince GOP voters that he was more right-wing than the other. Coble couldn’t live down the fact that as an elected official, no matter how conservative, he’d actually been associated with the spending of tax revenue on public programs. It was the kiss of death!

North Carolina’s congressional delegation now has seven Democrats, including the lame duck Miller, and six Republicans. The revamped districts have produced a lineup of at least nine Republicans – possibly 10, if state Sen. David Rouzer of Benson pulls ahead of 7th District incumbent Mike McIntyre. What’s striking, as People’s Forum letter-writer Tomas Baer noted Friday, is that this tilt toward the GOP occurred even though Democratic congressional candidates on Tuesday’s ballot drew more total votes than did their Republican opponents.

It’s a telling indicator of how the GOP-drawn maps have corralled Democratic voters into districts where they can knock themselves out supporting the likes of Democratic stalwart David Price, the veteran congressman from Chapel Hill, while in the majority of districts they’re about as sparse as Eskimos in Alabama.

The same pattern is evident in legislative districts, which proved so inhospitable for several incumbent Democrats – perhaps “double-bunked” with Democratic colleagues – that they hung it up. Or, like veteran Democratic Sen. Doug Berger of Youngsville, they were tossed into a strange district where Republicans were thick on the ground. Adios, Doug.

What the Republicans wound up with were veto-proof supermajorities in both houses – not that we can expect incoming GOP governor Pat McCrory to make much use of the veto stamp worn to a nub by Gov. Beverly Perdue. Unless the courts uphold a Democratic challenge to the district maps that are now so bizarrely skewed, legislative Republicans can look forward to at least a decade when they’ll be large and in charge.

No wonder, then, the extraordinary push to re-elect Supreme Court Justice Paul Newby, whose win Tuesday cements a 4-3 Republican edge on the officially nonpartisan court. Boatloads of money from who knows where, plowed into a barrage of deceptive ads, secured Newby’s seat. His claims of impartiality meant zilch to his supporters – who must figure that for the price they paid, they’re entitled to the ruling they want.

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

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