When state lawmakers couldn’t come together to repeal House Bill 2, it was just another sorry reminder of the toxic partisan divide that often renders the N.C. General Assembly dysfunctional.
Compromise, trust and honest brokering seem to be out of reach for this body of elected officials that arguably has more impact on our lives than any other level of government.
So what happened and why?
The inability to repeal HB2 is a symptom of what is a grave threat to our democracy: partisan gerrymandering.
When the majority party, whether it’s Democrats or Republicans, gets to draw its own districts for its own advantage, our whole elective system becomes unfair. The proof is in the legislative maps – illogically shaped districts creating a jigsaw puzzle covering our state, making lawmakers virtually unaccountable to voters.
Consider our incoming legislature that will be sworn in this January. More than 90 percent of them ran uncontested in November or won their election by a comfortable double-digit margin. Largely because of gerrymandering, citizens have no choice and no voice in our elections.
Lawmakers from these heavily gerrymandered districts are far more concerned with fending off potential primary opponents than facing a substantial general election challenge. As such, they arrive in Raleigh with no incentive to ever reach across the aisle and compromise.
That inability to conduct a civil discussion and reach an overall agreement was on full display in the special session called to repeal HB2, but failed to do just that.
We can’t go on like this. To the world, North Carolina appears to be a basket case. Ideologically driven agendas rule the day. And members of our two parties seem more interested in trading insults than working together to solve problems.
Somehow, we must stop the dysfunction. We must convince lawmakers to commit to fixing our broken redistricting system.
We need a process that remove politics and produces fair maps that keep communities of interest whole and results in districts that are more competitive. But this won’t happen unless we the people are involved. It’s time to let our legislators know enough is enough.
Common Cause founder John Gardner once said, “Everyone’s organized but the people. Now it’s our turn.” That’s never been more true than today.
With the climate we’re in, now is the time for citizens of all political stripes to come together. There are some general principals everyone can agree on, such as that redistricting needs to be transparent, free of partisan politics, abide by all federal rules including the Voting Rights Act and be independent of the legislature. Lawmakers should no longer be allowed to draw their own districts.
The political pendulum hardly stands still. No party is guaranteed to be in power forever. So it’s in everyone’s best interest for North Carolina to create a new redistricting process that provides fair representation for both parties.
If you agree, get involved. Make one of your New Year’s resolutions to help North Carolina end gerrymandering. You can find out how to get involved by visiting CommonCauseNC.org.
When we end gerrymandering, it’s likely a lot of other vital issues confronting our state can be more easily solved. Hopefully then big decisions like repealing HB2 don’t fall apart in a rancorous brawl.
Bob Phillips is executive director of Common Cause North Carolina, a nonprofit and nonpartisan organization dedicated to encouraging citizen participation in democracy.