Fullsteam Brewery is letting people protest while they drink, with a new beer called Purple State.
For every pint sold the brewery will donate $1 to Common Cause NC, a nonpartisan political watchdog group whose main goal is fighting against gerrymandering. It’ll be available to the public starting Thursday.
“North Carolina is diverse in thought, political beliefs, socio-economic backgrounds, and agricultural resources,” Fullsteam wrote when it announced the beer release. “We wanted to express this diversity in a beer and highlight the terrible way our current state government draws boundaries in an effort to divide us and maintain power.”
Mapmakers gerrymander when they draw the boundaries of voting districts in such a way as to weaken the power of a racial group, political party or other group.
Never miss a local story.
North Carolina has long been among the most heavily gerrymandered states in the country. For decades the lines for state and federal legislative seats were drawn to disproportionately favor Democrats. Now they disproportionately favor Republicans. Many attempts to gerrymander the state have been ruled unconstitutional, under both parties’ control, while other redistricting efforts have been allowed to stand.
Common Cause says it’s the most pressing issue facing U.S. politics right now. The group is organizing a tour of North Carolina that will visit major cities between now and next May to talk to people about gerrymandering and try to convince them to get involved.
“No matter what issue you care about most – education, the environment, taxes, healthcare, gun control – ending gerrymandering needs to be the issue you care about first,” the group says on its website. “Until we fix this, it’ll be next to impossible to fix anything else.”
As part of the grassroots effort against gerrymandering that has gained more steam recently, Fullsteam’s Purple State is a saison brewed with purple potatoes and elderberries grown here in North Carolina. The brewery says it tastes a little tart and a little fruity.
The purple potatoes and the beer’s Purple State name point to North Carolina’s status as a swing state, neither red nor blue.
Barack Obama narrowly won in 2008, and Mitt Romney narrowly won in 2012. Donald Trump won last year, although the majority of voters supported someone other than him.
The 2016 race for governor was even closer, with Democrat Roy Cooper edging out Republican Pat McCrory by 0.2 percent of the vote.
So what’s the impact of gerrymandering?
Despite the razor-thin margins in statewide races last year, elections that could be divided into districts were hugely lopsided.
Of the state’s 13 seats in the U.S. House of Representatives, Republicans won 10 last year and Democrats won three. In the N.C. General Assembly, Republicans control more than 60 percent of the seats in both the House and Senate.
Critics say that’s gerrymandering, although Republican leaders have defended it. Senate leader Phil Berger recently said that North Carolina has “the strictest anti-gerrymandering standards in the entire country” – which PolitiFact NC rated False.
When it comes time to redraw North Carolina’s districts for state and federal elections, state lawmakers typically make the lines. The only exception is what’s currently happening – when the lines are ruled unconstitutional by a court, and the judges appoint an independent mapmaker.
Many seats in the state legislature go uncontested, partially due to gerrymandering.
In November 2016, none of the 13 races for the U.S. House was particularly close. None of the losers came within single digits of the winners, and most races were separated by about 20-point margins. Four of the 13 winners received more than twice as many votes as their challengers.
“Gerrymandering sucks, and we hope this beer highlights its current (and historical) inequities,” Fullsteam wrote.
Doran: 919-836-2858; Twitter: @will_doran