Rob Christensen

How the GOP plans to overturn Wake elections

The morning after November’s election, as we read the morning newspaper over coffee, my wife noted with surprise that the Wake County Board of Commissioners had switched from Republican to Democratic control.

“Well, the legislature will fix their wagons,” I said. My wife reminded me of that prediction the other day as the legislature began moving with speed to radically change the way the Wake County commissioners are elected.

The Senate has now approved a bill that would change how voters choose the Wake County Board of Commissioners – from a countywide vote to a district system in which everyone votes on two commissioners in gerrymandered districts drawn by Republican politicians with the aim of returning the board to GOP control. The board would go from seven to nine members.

This shows how politics has changed over the years.

OLD POLITICS: When your party lost an election, you got off the ground, dusted off your pants and figured out how you could do better next time.

NEW POLITICS: You begin plotting in the legislature how you change the election laws to make sure it is nearly impossible that you ever lose an election again.

OLD POLITICS: You analyze the results, figure out how to improve your get-out-the vote effort, improve your messaging, recruit better candidates and maybe raise more money. It is a strategy that requires heavy thinking, hard work and discipline.

NEW POLITICS: Draw up legislation to create new districts that makes it difficult for your party to lose. All it requires is political power, connections and a little bit of guile.

OLD POLITICS: The public is the master and elected officials are the servants, hence the term “public servants.”

NEW POLITICS: If the public – in this case the Wake County voters – do not vote in the politically correct way, then the voting system must be changed so that it does not happen again. In this case, the masters of Jones Street have deigned that the people of Wake County voted incorrectly and therefore corrective action must be taken.

As a veteran political columnist with a soft place in my heart for political roguery, I do admire the sheer cynicism involved in this latest power grab.

The Republican legislature pulled the same maneuver in Buncombe and Guilford counties and is considering a similar move in the Greensboro City Council districts – a sort of search and destroy mission to wipe out pockets of Democratic office holders throughout the state.

It would be refreshing if the Republican lawmakers were as honest about what they were doing as was Tammany Hall political boss George Washington Plunkitt, who said: “I seen my opportunities and I took ’em.”

Instead, we get Republican Sen. Chad Barefoot’s explanation that this is not a GOP power grab, but it is an effort to ensure that Raleigh voters do not dominate voters in outlying towns – a point he curiously failed to make when Republicans controlled the board.

Barefoot’s new theory of democracy – that if a voter moves from an apartment complex in Raleigh to a subdivision in Knightdale her vote should somehow count for more – is a novel one. Maybe we should call it the Barefoot Principle.

Then we have Sen. Tom Apodaca, a Hendersonville Republican, who declared that it was a rural vs. city issue.

“Let’s get down to it,” Apodaca told the Senate last week. “We’re talking rural vs. city. As we grow, we see what the cities do, they take over everything.’’

Although English is my mother tongue, I have no idea what Apodoca is talking about. Wake County is now almost wall-to-wall suburbs. Wake County has an estimated 976,059 people, and as of the 2010 census the county was defined as 94 percent urban and 6 percent rural.

Surely, Apodoca is not saying that the 6 percent should rule the 94 percent.

But everybody knew that Apodoca was blowing smoke with his urban/rural scenario. This bill is about rigging the Wake County elections, just as the legislature has previously rigged legislative and congressional elections through gerrymandering.

Then we have state Rep. Paul “Skip” Stam, an Apex Republican, complaining that the Democratic county commissioners rode into office on an anti-GOP wave that had little to do with the commission races. There is some truth in that. But then the Republicans gained control of the state legislature in 2010 riding the tea party wave against Obamacare and against President Barack Obama that had little to do with the legislature.

That’s how politics works – sometimes the winds blow in your favor and sometimes they blow in your face. The problem is the Republicans are trying to rig the system so the wind is always blowing at their backs.

The Republicans hardly need an affirmative-action program in North Carolina. They control the executive, legislative and judicial branches of government, the two U.S. Senate seats and 10 of 13 U.S. House seats.

U.S. Sen. Richard Burr and Republican Party Chairman Claude Pope last week announced Project Listen in Wake and Mecklenburg Counties to help the GOP do better in the state’s two largest and fastest-growing counties that have been trending Democratic.

Here is one piece of advice for Project Listen. How about earning the votes the old fashioned way: through hard work and good ideas, as opposed to backroom finagling.

Christensen: 919-829-4532 or rchristensen@newsobserver.com

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