Attorney General Roy Cooper said this week that Democrats should push for a nonpartisan redistricting commission as a remedy to political polarization.
Cooper, a presumptive Democratic candidate for governor in 2016, made the suggestion at a meeting of the Wake Democratic Men’s Club on Monday night.
Every 10 years the legislature uses new census figures to rebalance the populations in state House, state Senate and congressional districts. The party in power also uses that opportunity to draw districts that give it an advantage in elections. Democrats for years created districts designed to help them keep legislative majorities, and Republicans did the same for themselves in 2011.
The result produced only a handful of truly competitive legislative districts.
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As last week’s election shows, none of the state’s 13 congressional districts are competitive. Republicans easily won 10 districts, Democrats handily won the other three.
Nearly a third of the 170 House members and senators were effectively elected before any votes were cast this year because they faced no opposition in either the primary or general election.
Groups as ideologically diverse as the N.C. Justice Center and the John Locke Foundation have joined to promote changes in how the state draws political districts. Proposed bills that would take redistricting out of the legislature’s hands have kicked around for years but never gained serious traction.
A dozen states give redistricting authority to a group other than the legislature, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Cooper acknowledged that Democrats used redistricting to their advantage when they controlled the legislature. “But it has never been as technologically diabolical as it is now” where mapmakers are “able to go household by household” in creating districts.
Cooper’s Justice Department is defending the latest redistricting maps in court. Republican legislative leaders have hired their own attorneys to work alongside the state’s lawyers.
Gov. Pat McCrory, a Republican, talked about the lack of competition in a radio interview on Charlotte NPR station WFAE last week.
“I think the gerrymandered districts where we have no competition in the general election makes all of our jobs difficult, especially the executive branch,” he said. “I have to represent the whole state, where legislators, both Republican and Democrat, tend to represent a more monolithic population.”
McCrory said in the interview that a neutral redistricting commission wouldn’t work because “the people setting up the commission are politicians.”
Cooper, however, said a nonpartisan commission would give the state “more sensible districts and people who have to answer to a varied constituency.”