Stam doing the right thing on NC redistricting

December 30, 2013 

The following editorial appeared in the News-Topic of Lenoir:

If you’re sipping a cup of coffee or orange juice right now, put it down before reading the next sentence.

There’s a politician in Raleigh who championed an idea that once would have benefited his political party, but he still champions it now that it would seem to hurt his party; he just thinks it’s the right thing to do.

Maybe we should have warned you to sit down, too.

State Rep. Paul Stam, a Republican from Apex, is the lead sponsor of House Bill 606, which would change the way North Carolina draws district lines for congressional and legislative elections.

Currently, the lines are drawn by the party in control of the state legislature, and they have always been drawn to try to maximize the party’s number of seats. Democrats and Republicans both do it, and there is no difference in the lengths to which they will go. Computers and deep demographic data now allow that gerrymandering to be carried to ridiculous levels, resulting in situations such as North Carolina’s congressional delegation being split 9-4 in favor of Republicans, who received a total of 49 percent of the vote in 2012 races. Under Democratic gerrymandering, similarly disjointed results were found.

The result of such extreme gerrymandering is that final election results effectively are determined in the party primary, driving both parties’ candidates to their ideological extremes. That ensures a level of gridlock and also whiplash for voters every time the party in power changes because there are few moderates in either.

HB 606 seeks to set clear and simple rules for drawing district lines by turning over the task to the legislature’s professional staff – career staff who serve through Republican and Democratic control alike. The rules would expressly forbid using information about political affiliations of registered voters, previous election results and demographic information other than population head counts.

It needs to go further to remove human interference, but the bill is a tremendous step in the right direction.

Stam is pushing for for the bill now because, as he puts it, redistricting reform has the best chance when neither party can anticipate the outcome of the next census-year election. New district lines won’t be drawn until after the 2020 census, so whoever wins control of the legislature in 2020 will draw the lines. If you can predict which party will win, you are wasting your time here and ought to be in Vegas building a fortune for your grandkids.

Now is the time for redistricting reform, not because Republicans are in charge but because no one can be sure who will be in charge in 2021. That means everyone can (though many won’t) focus on doing the right thing.

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