Their old legislative district maps have been ruled unconstitutional by federal courts because of racial gerrymandering, and now Republican leaders of the General Assembly have no choice but to draw new districts by Sept. 1. Yet they seem not just calm but upbeat about the whole process.
And to do the map drawing they’ve hired Tom Hofeller, who drew the current unconstitutional maps. He’ll be paid $50,000 for the task.
So there’s the first curiosity about all this. Hofeller’s of course a friend of the GOP, which is to be expected. But how can taxpayers, who are footing this bill, have confidence in someone whose last maps were thrown out by courts?
But there are other curious things here.
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The Republicans, who have Democrats on their committees pertaining to redistricting but ignore them, have passed rules clearly aimed to benefit them in terms of guidelines for drawing the new maps.
For example, the rules just passed allow them to consider past election results when drawing the new districts. That would seem to say, well, if Representative So-and-So won, then he must be the chosen representative of the people so we need to figure a map that will help him. There’s a recipe for trouble.
And, another rule will allow the new maps drawn in a way that can protect incumbents.
House Minority Leader Rep. Darren Jackson of Wake County nailed that one: “We will protect the incumbents elected using unconstitutional maps.” Bam. Pow. Zing.
And then there’s the rule that will not allow race to be considered in drawing districts. Ah, that seems fair on the surface, but such a guideline could be used to disenfranchise minority voters by ignoring them. Rep. Mickey Michaux, a veteran lawmaker from Durham and an African-American, said, “You’re still short-changing a group of people by not including them.”
It really isn’t that much of a stretch to wonder if Republicans are setting themselves up for failure. If they draw new maps — chances are the maps already exist, since they have to be done in a couple of weeks — that also are blatantly skewed to help Republicans, as the current maps are, will the courts reject those maps? And if they did, would Republicans gamble that the old maps would at least have to be used in the next election?
It’s probably not a safe bet. A judge could decide to draw the maps without the assistance of the GOP’s chosen mapmaker.
This seemingly endless legal battle is unfair mainly to the people of North Carolina, who deserve to choose their legislators based on maps that make geographic and political sense, with tightly-drawn districts wherein residents have common concerns and where a representative or senator will be familiar with the territory he or she represents.
Republicans won control of the General Assembly without these shenanigans, under the pre-redesigned districts. Why are they so obsessed with seeing to it that there be no more fair fights, that future elections give them a ridiculously unfair advantage? The only answer has to be that they believe what they’ve done since they’ve been in power is not popular with most North Carolinians, that their cuts to public education, their disastrous passage of HB2, their embarrassing titling at ideological windmills such as the marriage amendment have alienated people.
So now it’s not good enough to stack up against Democrats. The fix has to be in.