North Carolina’s Republican legislators have joined the HGTV rage of house makeovers — only they’re dealing with the U.S. House, not some fixer-upper bungalow.
They drew and approved a new congressional map last week, after a three-judge federal panel ruled that the 1st and 12th districts were unconstitutional racial gerrymanders.
The makeover was dramatic. Legislators apparently were concerned that if they made more modest changes, the three-judge panel would draw its own map, outside their control.
While the new map looks dramatically different, it has the same effect – it is politically gerrymandered to keep a 10-3 Republican balance in North Carolina’s congressional delegation.
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Of course, the legislators hope the new plan won’t be used. They’d much prefer that the U.S. Supreme Court issues a stay and allows the congressional primaries to be held, as originally scheduled, March 15.
Here are my five takeaways from the new GOP plan.
1. The most interesting consequence is a GOP primary contest between two incumbents – 2nd District Rep. Renee Ellmers of Dunn and 13th District Rep. George Holding of Raleigh.
The legislature picked up Holding’s 13th District and moved it to the middle of the state. But it moved much of the area that Holding now represents into Ellmers’ new district. And if the new GOP plan is used, it appears Holding and Ellmers will face off, even though he lives outside the district.
It is clear that neither Ellmers nor Holding has much political juice in the legislature. Neither is a former legislator. Neither is part of the good ol’ boy system, and no one was looking out for their interests when the maps were drawn.
Ellmers got her start in Tea Party politics but has become close to the U.S. House leadership. Holding started as an aide to U.S. Sen. Jesse Helms and as a federal prosecutor. Holding has the more conservative record, and Ellmers was fending off challenges from her right even under the old map.
Holding also has shown an ability to win a tough primary, when he defeated former Raleigh mayor Paul Coble, who is also a former chairman of the Wake County board of commissioners, in 2012.
2. The 13th District would be moved from the Raleigh area to Davidson, Davie and Iredell counties and part of Rowan. It would be Republican-leaning but competitive enough that a Democrat could win under the right circumstances. It also has the earmarks of a district specially designed for a legislator to run for Congress. But who? Speculation has centered on Republican Sen. Andrew Brock.
3. The 12th District is one of two districts designed to elect black candidates. In its current version it is regarded as the most gerrymandered district in the country, snaking along Interstate 85 from Charlotte to Greensboro and connecting black communities.
But the new GOP map would concentrate the 12th District in the Charlotte area, while it is now represented by Rep. Alma Adams — of Greensboro. It could be very difficult for her to hold onto that seat under the new plan, especially if challenged by a black Democrat from Charlotte.
4. While the legislature largely is trying to protect incumbents, it didn’t do any favors for Rep. Robert Pittenger, a Charlotte Republican. His new district now runs from Charlotte all the way down to Bladen County in the east. While it is still a Republican-leaning district, Pittenger now has to introduce himself to a whole new set of voters.
5. While the districts are still politically gerrymandered to elect Republicans, they include the most compact, contiguous congressional districts that we have seen for some time in North Carolina.