Republicans interfering in local policy isn’t subtle anymore. They nixed minor local taxes on businesses that helped cities fund infrastructure. They killed off tax credits to help the restoration of old buildings. They meddled in Raleigh’s Dix Park deal.
And in the most blatant example, state lawmakers voted 66-47 Wednesday to change the way Wake County commissioners are elected. The bill making the change moved through the General Assembly with breathtaking speed – and without any meaningful discussion about what it will mean to residents. Republicans in the county and in the General Assembly think they know what it will mean: that their party will regain control of the commissioners’ board, control they lost in the last election when four Republicans were trounced by four Democrats, making the seven-member board all Democratic.
As a local bill, the successful vote makes the redistricting law. Gov. Pat McCrory cannot veto local bills.
Sen. Chad Barefoot, a Wake Forest Republican, is the sponsor of the change. Wake Republican Reps. Paul Stam and Gary Pendleton helped craft the proposal and usher it through the House Wednesday.
It’s a nefarious plan on the part of Republicans, sore losers of the last commissioners’ race.
The new districts take effect in 2018 and increase the board from seven to nine members. Instead of all voters getting to vote for all commissioners’ candidates, which is about as democratic as an election can get, the new system has two new super districts, each covering half of the county. Voters would cast ballots only for commissioners in their own districts and for a candidate in one of the super districts.
The Wake commissioners districts will follow the new school board districts which take effect in 2016. The new arrangement will heavily favor Republicans by diluting the influence of heavily Democratic parts of Raleigh and Cary.
A News & Observer analysis found that if the new districts had been in place during the 2014 election, Republicans would have retained control of the board, taking five of the nine new districts. Indeed, they would have held the board majority despite Democrats drawing 30,000 more votes than Republicans.
The logic behind the change is that voters from outlying parts of the county that don’t have a commissioner in residence would get someone from their district on the board. Currently, four of the seven commissioners live in Raleigh, which has nearly half the county’s population.
But commissioners have to run from districts and live in those districts, even though all voters get to cast a ballot for all seven commissioners. So there is nothing to prevent fair competition from anyone in any district who wishes to run. By changing the system, Republicans are narrowing, not expanding, the power of voters. But they’re improving their own chances of getting control.
This is simply an unnecessary manipulation of the voting process and a system that has worked well. It’s the same system used by two thirds of the state’s 100 counties. And Republicans had no problem with it when they won control of the Board of Commissioners. They won fair and square, and they lost fair and square. The solution to their problem is not putting the fix in, but running good candidates who can make a case to voters.
An election won with skewed lines designed to favor one party over another will not give credibility to an elected board and help its members govern.
Now, with the existing system, those who win office on the board can say they were elected by all the people. Once the change comes, that no longer will be the case.
But Republican lawmakers had the votes and now shall have their way, blustering on and interfering with a local governing board and the people who elected its members, no matter the cost ... to democracy.