There’s plenty of hypocrisy in state politics to go around, especially when it comes to the matter of redistricting. Republicans were for it before they were against it. And the Democrats were against it before they were for it.
What is it that most afflicts Raleigh: hubris or political amnesia?
Most politicians’ world views are skewed to “all or nothing” when it comes to their respective party. When in power, they lock in as much control as possible. The Democrats in Raleigh did it up until losing control of the General Assembly in 2010, and the Republicans have been doing it since then.
Fairness? That’s for suckers. At least, that’s always been the approach when it comes drawing congressional and legislative districts in this state. Whoever controls the General Assembly controls drawing of districts, so it’s tantamount to representatives choosing their voters, rather than vice versa.
Voices for common sense and fairness have been at the fringes for years calling for reform that would be nonpartisan and remove political data and “incumbent protection” from the process. Republicans, forever a minority, embraced this change — until they became the majority in 2010 and controlled the process. Now the Republican leadership has little appetite for change, but there’s never been a greater hunger for fairness and more options than today.
A FAIR Process
The best option going is what’s known as the FAIR Act, introduced last week by House Republican Chuck McGrady. His legislation is endorsed by a who’s who of Democratic and Republican leaders across the state, everyone from billionaire businessman and Republican kingmaker Art Pope to former UNC President and judge Tom Ross.
(Full disclosure: David Woronoff, publisher of The Pilot, also sits on the board that has fostered the discussion and creation of the FAIR Act.)
The FAIR Act would put a constitutional amendment to voters asking them if the state should have a nonpartisan process for drawing districts. If approved, legislative staff would create a transparent, fully open process that would keep districts compact and fair without regard to political data and incumbency. The legislature still gets to approve them but without all the chicanery. The guidelines would ensure logical and competitive districts. “Safe” districts for one party could become winnable for anyone.
Lock In Competitiveness
North Carolina could lead the South in redistricting reform. Right now, it’s a leader in how many times it’s getting hauled into court over its districts. We’ve spent nearly 10 years of lawsuits and millions of dollars in legal fees over congressional and legislative boundaries that courts have repeatedly found deficient and illegal.
McGrady says a decade of drafting, litigating and re-drafting districts should teach both parties a lesson. “Maybe the time (has come) that both sides finally come together and say we prefer to have nonpartisan redistricting as opposed to have the other party be completely in charge of the system,” he said.
So we come back to our original question: Is it hubris or political amnesia that stands in the way of this logical legislation? If the former, Republicans ought to realize — as Democrats surely do by now — that all power waxes and wanes. Should Republicans lose an outright majority in 2020, Democrats would control redistricting, with no reform on the books. But then the Democrats would face the same dilemma.
And as for political amnesia, how could an idea seem so worthwhile several years ago, but now it’s just treated with a dismissive shrug?
The past several elections have shown that this state’s electorate is not nearly as polarized as its politicians. Both parties would be better off embracing a reform that at least locks in the ability to be competitive rather than be locked out for years to come.