Under the Dome

NC Republicans push back against anti-gerrymandering campaign

Sen. Ralph Hise, right, during a break in Senate Appropriations Committee meeting at the Legislative Office Building in Raleigh Thursday, May 29, 2014.
Sen. Ralph Hise, right, during a break in Senate Appropriations Committee meeting at the Legislative Office Building in Raleigh Thursday, May 29, 2014. ehyman@newsobserver.com

As a key U.S. Supreme Court case on gerrymandering looms, North Carolina Republicans are pushing back against the criticism of their own political maps.

Racially motivated gerrymandering is unconstitutional, and within the past two years North Carolina has had to redraw its U.S. House, N.C. House and N.C. Senate districts after all were found to have disenfranchised black voters. The three maps found unconstitutional were drawn in 2011 by Republican state legislators, shortly after they took control of the N.C. General Assembly that year.

However, federal courts have long avoided deciding whether politically motivated gerrymandering is also unconstitutional. Democrats for years drew lines to help their party, and Republicans have done the same.

Democratic Sen. Jeff Jackson of Charlotte said that of the 4,300 written comments legislators received on the most recent round of redistricting, fewer than 1 percent were in favor.

But N.C. Sen. Ralph Hise, a Republican from Mitchell County who leads the Senate’s redistricting committee, said the input of fewer than 5,000 people in a state of 10 million is hardly representative of what people think. He also blamed the judges who ordered the lines to be redrawn, saying they should’ve given North Carolina more time.

“As you know, we were on a compressed deadline that was set by the court,” Hise said. “I regret the court-ordered timeline forced an abbreviated process that yielded only 4,300 comments out of roughly 10 million North Carolinians. While we appreciate those who took time to respond, most statisticians would probably not view that small sampling as a representation of public opinion for all of North Carolina.”

Hise also said many of the written comments that Jackson had focused on were too vague or broad to be useful, but that the General Assembly did act on a few specific ideas members of the public proposed.

“Several members of the public made suggestions that ended up being included in our final criteria, including additional anti-gerrymandering measures such as splitting fewer municipalities and precincts,” he said.

On Thursday, North Carolina submitted its new maps of state House and Senate districts to the three federal judges who struck down the 2011 maps. The challengers who forced the changes have a week to respond, and have already suggested the maps continue to include racial gerrymanders.

Confusion in Congress

U.S. Rep. Mark Meadows, a Republican who represents Western North Carolina in Congress, made headlines this week when he signed onto an anti-gerrymandering brief in the Wisconsin gerrymandering case, along with fellow Republican lawmakers like Arizona Sen. John McCain and N.C. Rep. Walter Jones.

But Meadows said there’s just one problem – he didn’t actually mean to sign his name to the letter, formally known as an amicus brief, which is now before the Supreme Court.

Meadows’ spokesman, Ben Williamson, said it was all a big mistake and Meadows has since gotten his name removed from the anti-gerrymandering letter.

“As he does with all action items, Congressman Meadows indicated he would be willing to review the amicus brief but never intended to formally sign on,” Williamson said in a written statement. “His name was added in error and has been removed from the brief. We continue to enjoy a tremendous working relationship with the North Carolina state legislature and are grateful for everything they do.”

Following Meadows’ announcement that his signature was added mistakenly Wednesday, Jones also dropped his name from the brief Thursday night. The Eastern North Carolina lawmaker cited similarly vague reasons.

“Congressman Jones was added to the brief due to a misunderstanding,” said his spokeswoman, Allison Tucker. “His name has been removed from the brief.”

That leaves Democratic N.C. Rep. David Price of Chapel Hill as the only one of North Carolina’s 15 members of Congress to sign on.

Meadows benefitted from the GOP-led 2011 redistricting effort. The district he represents used to be a swing district that was held by moderate Democratic Rep. Heath Shuler, who voted with Republicans on many social issues.

But in 2011, state Republicans moved Asheville out of that Western North Carolina district, and into a district with the Charlotte suburbs. That shifted Shuler’s district from a swing district to a heavily Republican one, and Shuler decided not to run for re-election.

Meadows stepped in and has since made a name for himself as one of the most conservative members of Congress, leading the hardline Freedom Caucus. In 2016 he won nearly twice as many votes as his Democratic opponent.

This year, Meadows rose to national prominence with a large role in the stalled Obamacare repeal debate.

And more recently he has advocated for shutting down the federal government if Congress doesn’t fund Trump’s $1.6 billion proposal to build a wall along the Mexican border, which Trump had previously promised that Mexico would pay for.

Doran: 919-836-2858; Twitter: @will_doran