If you can’t beat ’em ... change the rules so you can. Therein lies the heart of a ridiculous and blatantly partisan legislative maneuver from Wake County Republican Sen. Chad Barefoot of Wake Forest.
He has filed a bill in the General Assembly to change the voting districts for Wake County commissioners from the current, effective and simple way of having seven commissioners run from districts but face all voters countywide to a district system wherein there would be nine commissioners, with voters voting in their own districts and in one of two new districts that would cover half the county.
The district maps would match those drawn by Republican legislators for the county school board in 2013.
And why the move to a confusing and complicated system? Barefoot comes up with this nonsensical logic: It would ensure that every voter has a voice. He notes that five of the seven current commissioners live within a 15-mile radius of Raleigh and, by his figuring, 75 percent of the towns in Wake County don’t have their own representative on the commissioners’ board.
His plan, he says, would give all Wake County residents a voice on the board. And besides, Republicans say, running countywide is just too expensive.
First of all, of course, there is no system in which all voters would have more of a choice and more power than they have now. All voters get to vote for all commissioners. Not one. Not two. All of them.
The problem with Barefoot’s utterly silly logic is that it is transparent and voters are not going to be fooled.
Here’s why he and other Republicans want a change: After a catastrophic, two-year rule by Republicans on the Wake school board, Democrats took the board back from Republicans, restoring order and creating a more family-friendly, open-minded administration. That burned Republicans.
So GOP legislators commenced to change school board elections and districts.
But the capper was last fall. Republicans ran the commissioners’ board, engaging in repeated duels with the school board and standing against the idea of letting voters approve or disapprove a small tax to invest in transit options. They appeared impatient and at times rude.
So when election time came around, the four Republicans in the majority got beaten soundly. Among them were two veterans, Paul Coble and Joe Bryan.
The Democratic message
And now, to the great annoyance of Republicans, Democrats hold all seven seats on the Board of Commissioners.
They won fair and square. They won because voters liked their message better than the constant negativity of Republicans.
But instead of accepting the defeat and considering that maybe their message was wrong, Republicans through Barefoot now want to put the fix in. If they can’t win straight up, they’ll reconfigure the district lines and come up with a goofy formula they believe will give them an edge.
It’s an edge that will take away power from voters, not increase it. But it will, they hope, skew the districts in a way that will make it easier for Republicans to regain their majority.
This is insulting to the voting-age residents of Wake County. They looked at the candidates last fall and made their choices, and they picked four Democrats. Republicans had an equal chance: They faced all the voters in the county, period. If they want to get the majority back, perhaps they’d like to consider running better candidates with a more thoughtful message, not just criticizing all those who disagree with them and turning their backs on people who dare to speak in opposition to them.
The changes proposed by Barefoot are likely to pass. And they may help the Republicans get back in. But a board elected under a gerrymandered system will not have much credibility with citizens. The Republicans need to look for better ways to win a fair fight than to try to make it unfair. Why are they so afraid of the people?