Wake County

Wake map rulings leave school board members relieved, commissioner ‘collateral damage’

Wake County school board and government maps were ruled unconstitutional.
Wake County school board and government maps were ruled unconstitutional. News & Observer

Wake County school board members expressed relief they won’t have to face off against each other in the Nov. 8 election since voters will elect members based on existing district maps rather than those drawn by state lawmakers.

“I’m absolutely relieved,” said incumbent Monika Johnson-Hostler, who was set to compete for District 1 votes against board chairman Tom Benton. “I think we both bring something very valuable to the board, so I’m glad we can run in our individual districts.”

During an emergency teleconference Wednesday, the state elections board agreed to reopen the candidate filing period for the school board at noon Thursday. The filing period will close Aug. 17.

The decision to reopen filing was in response to a Tuesday ruling by U.S. District Court Judge James C. Dever III that said Wake will hold elections for all nine school board seats and three county commissioner seats using maps from 2011 – effectively scrapping “super districts” created by the Republican-led General Assembly.

A three-judge panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on July 1 ruled the election maps made by state lawmakers violated equal representation – or “one person, one vote” principles in the U.S. Constitution – and gave unfair advantages to voters in suburban districts.

Under the now-defunct maps, at least four school board members were set to lose their seats because of “double bunking” and “triple bunking” of incumbents. There was the potential for the nonpartisan board to flip from a Democratic majority to a Republican majority.

Six of the nine incumbent members filed to run. Kevin Hill and Zora Felton did not initially file for re-election, and Susan Evans said she decided to run for the state Senate instead of seeking re-election because of the new maps.

It’s unclear whether Hill and Felton will now file to keep their seats.

Bill Fletcher, who filed to run for one of two super districts that each would have covered half the county, can now file to keep his District 9 seat.

“The changes that were made were made for overtly political reasons,” Fletcher said of the redrawn maps. “This is a very positive outcome for our community.”

Meanwhile, the elections board will not reopen the filing period for county commissioners. Districts 4, 5 and 6 will be on the November ballot.

Caroline Sullivan, who represents District 4 but filed to run for the now-defunct super district A, will lose her seat because she can’t refile.

Other super district commissioner candidates – John Adcock, Craig Ralph and Vicki Scroggins-Johnson – are also without a race to run in despite collectively raising more than $50,000 for their campaigns and winning primary elections this spring.

They can use the money for future campaigns, give it to political organizations, donate to certain charities or give each donation back to its donor, according to state law.

Gary Sims, executive director of the Wake elections board, said county commission district lines didn’t change like the school board’s did under the now-scrapped maps. So there is no reason to reopen the filing period.

“The judge’s orders were pretty specific. The only thing we could effectively ask for was the board of education” filing period, Sims said. “Our board has just been following the direction of the courts and the state board of elections.”

The move establishes Democrat Erv Portman, a former commissioner, and Ken Gardner as the commissioner candidates in District 4.

Incumbent commissioner James West is running unopposed in District 5.

Republican John Odom, a longtime Raleigh councilman, will square off against Democrat Greg Ford in District 6. Longtime commissioner Betty Lou Ward isn’t seeking re-election in the district.

Sullivan was elected in 2012 and has been at the forefront of the commissioners’ efforts to fund school construction without a bond referendum, as well as boost health care funding to those suffering from mental illness and substance abuse. She also created a task force to brainstorm ways to tackle the income gap between men and women.

On Wednesday, Sullivan said she’s glad the federal court stopped the legislature’s “overreach.” But she said she was livid the corrective measure leaves her as “collateral damage.”

“The General Assembly in its legislative overreach has changed the manner in which we were elected, and a judge has decided who’s going to run,” Sullivan said. “The voters have been totally left out of the equation. This state is in desperate need of redistricting reform.”

Paul A. Specht: 919-829-4870, @AndySpecht