Politics & Government

In North Carolina the districts are new but the problems are old

Confusion reigns in redrawn NC Congressional Districts

Lexington, NC and Davidson County voters are caught in the crossfire of court-ordered redrawn districts.
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Lexington, NC and Davidson County voters are caught in the crossfire of court-ordered redrawn districts.

Glen Edwards unfolded the printouts a reporter handed him and scanned the photographs like a witness in a police investigation.

Did he recognize these people?

“Nope,” he said. “I don’t know any of ’em.”

He passed the pages across an outdoor table at The Perfect Blend, a downtown Lexington coffee shop, to his friend and roommate, James Bridges. Any of these faces ring a bell?

“No,” Bridges said, shaking his head. “Not at all.”

The black-and-white photos, each with an American flag as a backdrop, were of U.S. Reps. Virginia Foxx, Alma Adams and Richard Hudson, who represent North Carolina’s 5th, 12th and 8th congressional districts, respectively. If folks here have trouble keeping their representatives straight, they could be forgiven.

For now, the corner of Main and Center streets where Edwards and Bridges come to sip coffee and watch traffic is the Rock City of North Carolina congressional districts. Only instead of being able to see into seven states, a pedestrian can stand on the corner, feet planted in District 12, look a half-mile to the northwest up Center Street and see into District 5, then turn and gaze a mile southeast into District 8. On a map, the 12th looks like a creek running between two swaths of land.

On Feb. 5, a three-judge federal panel ruled that the 12th District, along with the 1st, in the northeastern part of the state, constituted racial gerrymandering, an intentional effort to corral voters by race into a single district. In a frantic effort to fix that, state legislators this week redrew all the districts. On the new map, all of Lexington and Davidson County will be in the 13th, now represented by George Holding of Raleigh – who apparently will run this year in the new 2nd District.

Edwards and Bridges didn’t recognize Holding either, though they were vaguely aware of the redistricting uproar. Like most folks in this barbecue capital and former furniture-making hub now ringed by decaying manufacturing plants, they have more pressing concerns.

The two men, both 54 and unable to work, worry more about what will happen to their monthly income when they have to shift from disability to regular Social Security.

Indeed, to many people in Davidson County, the redistricting debate seems much more distant than the 110 miles between Lexington and Raleigh, or even the 350 miles to Washington. Once they elect someone to Congress, locals say, they don’t hear much from them. They don’t write, they don’t call, they don’t send back decent jobs.

“I know it sounds bad, but no,” Ashley Thomason said when asked whether she could name her representative. (It’s Hudson.)

Thomason, 33, already is disillusioned with the political process. She registered to vote at age 18 as an independent, she said, and was a regular voter until the last election, when she didn’t even bother.

“You know politicians are going to say one thing and do another,” she said with a shrug. “So your vote’s not going to matter, really.”

From the photographs, Thomason was able to identify only Foxx.

“But Lord, I couldn’t tell you what she stands for or what she’s done for us,” Thomason said. “I have no clue.”

Janet Coleman is very interested in presidential politics – she has sat through several of the debates – but admits, “I don’t really go a lot farther down the line.”

Congressional contests hold little interest.

It’s not that she thinks members of Congress have no effect on her life. “They do, I know they do,” said Coleman, who owns a consignment business on Main Street, in Lexington’s thriving rehabbed downtown district. If anything, she thinks Congress may have done too much already.

“Too many regulations on business,” she said.

Many here still are bitter about U.S. trade deals that made it attractive for North Carolina’s once-mighty textile and furniture industries to relocate most of their manufacturing outside the country from the 1980s into the 2000s. The area lost thousands of jobs as plant after plant closed. On the edge of downtown Lexington, Dixie Furniture’s rambling million-square-foot plant, with buildings dating to 1901, has sat empty and silent since 2003, its windows targets for vandals. The county’s unemployment rate was 5 percent in December, slightly under the state rate of 5.6 percent that month.

Like other young people with ambitions, Coleman’s daughter left Davidson County to go to college. She landed in Wilmington and never came back.

“There is nothing for her here,” Coleman said. “If she moved back, she’d have to drive to Greensboro or Winston-Salem or even to Charlotte to work.”

Karen Watford, a retired English teacher who now works part-time at The Candy Factory on Main Street, where shoppers can buy their sugar-induced childhood memories by the pound, recognized all three of the photos of the region’s current congressional representatives.

“I have an advantage,” she said. Her father, Joe Hege, served in the N.C. House, and her husband, Sam Watford, is serving there now. Watford, a Republican, was summoned to Raleigh along with the other lawmakers for a special session to try to manage the redistricting.

“But I understand why a lot of people don’t care,” Watford said. “They just don’t see the effect.”

News & Observer reporter Martha Quillin showed several voters a piece of paper with their current or possible Congressmen. Watch the results.

Martha Quillin: 919-829-8989, @MarthaQuillin

Where’s the 13th?

U.S. Rep. George Holding, a Republican, serves the current 13th District, which covers portions of Durham, Edgecombe, Franklin, Granville, Nash, Vance, Wake, Wayne and Wilson counties. In the redrawn map for this year’s vote, the 13th moves far to the west and covers Davidson, Davie, Guilford and part of Rowan counties. Areas that were in the 13th will be in the 1st, 2nd, 4th or 7th district.

Holding, who lives in Raleigh, has said he will run in the 2nd District, currently represented by Republican Rep. Renee Ellmers.

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