Friday, April 29, 2011

North Carolina Legislators Seek Public Input on Redistricting

Last night I attended a public hearing on redistricting in Guilford County that was hosted by North Carolina Senator Bob Rucho (R- Mecklenburg). The purpose of the hearing was to allow private citizens to voice their opinions about the current redistricting process to members of the General Assembly. Each individual who chose to speak was given five minutes to do so.

Senator Bob Rucho, who presided over the meeting, is chairman of the Redistricting Committee in the NC Senate. Also present were several members of Guilford County's House and Senate delegation, including Representatives John Faircloth, Maggie Jeffus, Alma Adams, and Pricey Harrison. Senators Don Vaughan and Gladys Robinson were also present.

The prevailing sentiment among those who expressed their opinions was that legislative districts should be fair, legal, and apolitical. It was clear that some speakers were liberal and some were conservative, but almost everyone seemed to agree that politics shouldn't play a role in redistricting. Some speakers even made specific recommendations as to how certain districts should be reconfigured.

Due to the importance of the issue I felt compelled to sign up as a speaker. When it was my turn to speak, I contended that gerrymandering has played a role in how current districts are configured and that the General Assembly should cast aside any temptation to reconfigure districts based on partisan politics.

Also, I pointed out that we have six House districts in Guilford County and that not one of them is competitive. Districts 61 and 62 are so heavily Republican that they are uncompetitive. On the other hand, districts 57, 58, 59, and 60 are so heavily Democratic that it is nearly impossible for a Republican to compete in any of those districts.

This, of course, represents a fundamental problem because it takes competition out of the equation and creates "safe seats" for the incumbents. Unfortunately, this leads to a situation where voters have little choice over who they want their representatives to be.

I also pointed out that I ran for public office last year as a Republican in House District 57, which is heavily Democratic. Before attending the meeting last night, I called the Guilford County Board of Elections to confirm the breakdown of voter registration in District 57. I was informed that the district is 51 percent Democratic, 25 percent Republican, 23 percent unaffiliated, and less than two percent Libertarian.

While Republicans only make up 25 percent of voters in District 57, I was able to obtain 44 percent of the vote. This, I contended, indicates that I would have likely won the election if the numbers in the district were competitive.

Furthermore, I appealed to the General Assembly to draw districts that are fair and legal and competitive. I also asked that our elected officials follow state and federal guidelines when implementing the redistricting process.

At the hearing, Senator Rucho stated that the General Assembly is committed to configuring districts that are fair and legal and that all of the necessary guidelines will be followed. He asserted that the process will be done in a way that is efficient and transparent. Senator Rucho also stated that maps will become available for the public to see in late May or early June.

More than likely, the General Assembly will vote on a redistricting plan in June. If the plan passes the House and Senate, it will be submitted to the United States Justice Department for approval.