The General Assembly’s secret haggling months past the deadline for a state budget frustrates school officials, teachers and state employees and could upset thousands more depending on how much new policy ends up in the new spending plan. But what really ought to outrage the public is that the leaders of the General Assembly have little reason to care about how the public feels.
The legislative redistricting maps passed in 2011 after Republicans took control of the General Assembly were so aggressively gerrymandered it would take a pitch-fork rebellion by voters to end the GOP majority.
How safe are the seats? Consider what happened in the 2014 General Assembly election. For 170 legislative seats, 78 had only one candidate. Of the 92 remaining races, fewer than 10 were competitive. In the end, three seats switched parties.
Former Raleigh Mayor Charles Meeker, along with former Charlotte Mayor Richard Vinroot have led a statewide drive to have district lines drawn every 10 years by an independent commission or nonpartisan legislative staff. The proposal has gone nowhere in the General Assembly despite broad public support for an end to having politicians choose their voters.
“Everywhere you go virtually everybody favors ending gerrymandering,” Meeker said last week. “It’s not even close. It’s 4 or 5 to 1.”
Meanwhile, if North Carolina cannot have fair election districts, it should at least have legal ones. That’s not the case now. The NAACP and others sued to have the current maps thrown out. The plaintiffs say the mapmakers illegally packed African-American voters, who tend to vote Democratic, into a few districts to make more districts favorable to Republicans.
A three-judge panel and the state Supreme Court upheld the maps, but the U.S. Supreme Court ordered the state’s high court to reconsider its ruling in light of the U.S. Supreme Court ruling asking a lower court to reconsider its approval Alabama’s redistricting maps. Republicans in Alabama also engaged in packing African-Americans into districts.
There’s no reason for the state Supreme Court to drag this case out further. The court heard oral arguments Aug. 31 and should rule within a few weeks. The justices are familiar with the facts, and the 2016 elections are coming into view. Either the court should rule against the plaintiffs and allow them time to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. Or it should rule against the maps and allow time for the General Assembly to bring them into compliance.
North Carolina has already conducted two elections under maps that the U.S. Supreme Court is likely to rule illegal. To have the state go through a third election along these warped lines would further insult the principles of democracy that legislative leaders have chosen to ignore.