A three-judge panel has ruled that North Carolina’s 13 U.S. House districts were unconstitutional partisan gerrymanders. I talked with one of the plaintiffs, Morton Lurie, 84, a retired IBMer and 30-year Raleigh resident. Here are his comments, edited for brevity.
Q: You’re a conservative Republican. Why did you join with others to challenge North Carolina’s U.S. House districts, which were drawn by Republicans in the legislature?
A: I’m conservative in terms of economics. I joined because of my presence in (Democrat) David Price’s district for all but four years of my time in Raleigh. (Republican Fred) Heineman beat him (in 1994). The next time, Price was everywhere. He was out and about. He would respond to questions, you could always find out how he voted. (Eventually) he got a district he would never get out of. It was frustrating to find out how he even voted. He is very secretive now if you try to find out his position, especially if you’re a conservative.
(A spokesman for Price said in the last year he had responded to more than 70,000 emails, 8,000 calls, and 1,900 letters from constituents across the political spectrum. He said Price had held nine town hall meetings and more than 170 community events. He also said his voting record is on his website and Price replies in writing to any constituent who requests a response.)
Q: Have you received any criticism from Republicans about joining the suit?
A: No. I have not received any criticism.
Q: How did you get involved?
A: Jane Pinsky (of the N.C. Coalition for Lobbying and Government Reform) was looking for three Republicans, one from each of the three districts (represented by Democrats). She knew me because her husband is my doctor. I know her a little bit socially. She knew my views. She asked me, so I said sure. All it involved was making an oral deposition, which was recorded. When the case came up in Greensboro, she took me there. She took me to the trial for the first day. I heard the arguments.
Q: Do you think an independent commission – not state legislators – should draw legislative and congressional districts?
A: It’s hard to know what the solution is. The best thing is competitive districts, but how you get to them is not easy. I’m sort of wary in having the Supreme Court designate how the states should draw the districts. If an independent commission could be truly independent that probably would be good, but it’s hard to make an independent commission.
Q: In a related case in Wisconsin, the plaintiffs rely on a statistical formula called the “efficiency gap.” The formula counts the number of votes “wasted” when voters are shifted into districts where their votes won’t matter. Should this formula be used when drawing districts?
A: I don’t know. What I would like is whether you win or lose, I’d like a congressman who would be sensitive to your views. Because David Price became so solid in his seat that he could ignore constituents. I wasn’t that that unhappy with him. Once he became solid, I’m not able to get any information (from him). There’s very little incentive to vote if you’re a Republican in his district.
Q: Some states, such as Louisiana, have used what’s called a “jungle primary” or “top-two” primary. Candidates from both parties run in the same primary and the top two candidates face off in the election. Could that lead to your goal of having more competitive elections?
A: In Wake County there’s a preponderance of Democrats. We might end up having two Democrats and I’d be unhappy with both. We might get one that’s more open and that would be good. I’ve never really focused on it. You can make a decent argument for it.
Q: You have a long-time interest in public policy issues, especially transit. What will you get involved with next?
A: I have a lady friend. When I start talking about bikes, she says to stop talking so much about them.