Democratic lawmakers join members of the public in critiquing GOP redistricting in NC

·5 min read

As several dozen members of the public addressed state lawmakers Monday regarding proposed new political maps, two top Democrats suggested that GOP leaders may have secretly hired a political consultant to draw the maps for them — despite claiming to have drawn them transparently and without using political data.

”When I look at the maps, I say to myself, something must have taken place outside of the General Assembly,” said Sen. Ben Clark, a Raeford Democrat who sits on the Senate redistricting committee, in a news conference. “Now, I don’t know that as a fact. If they had produced maps that were marginally leaning Republican, I’d say ‘Oh, they probably did that themselves.’ But when you push a map that’s 11-3, in our state, it does raise questions.”

One of the Republican chairmen of that redistricting committee, Sen. Ralph Hise, dismissed the accusations Monday in a brief interview after the legislature finished holding a public hearing on redistricting.

“I have hired no outside consultants for the drawing of these maps,” he said.

An outside analysis of the maps based on 2020 presidential election results — when Republican Donald Trump won 49.9% of the vote in North Carolina, beating Democrat Joe Biden by 1.5 percentage points — shows that Republicans could expect to win nearly every seat in Congress in the future even with similarly narrow results, due to the shape of the proposed districts.

Several GOP proposals would likely lead to a 10-4 GOP advantage, and one would lead to a likely 11-3 split, which Clark referenced.

Raleigh Sen. Dan Blue, the top Senate Democrat, echoed Clark’s musings about how Republicans could have created several different maps that all resulted in a strong advantage, without using political data.

He said it would be easy to draw an 8-6 map without relying on detailed political data, and maybe a 9-5 map if it had several swing districts. But beyond that?

“Just eyeballing it, you cannot come out with a map that gives such a disproportionate Republican advantage in a state that’s 50-50,” Blue said.

Paul Taylor of the National Black Leadership Caucus North Carolina 8th Congressional District, addresses state lawmakers during a public comment hearing on Senate and House legislative redistricting maps Monday, Oct. 15, 2021 at the Legislative Building in Raleigh.
Paul Taylor of the National Black Leadership Caucus North Carolina 8th Congressional District, addresses state lawmakers during a public comment hearing on Senate and House legislative redistricting maps Monday, Oct. 15, 2021 at the Legislative Building in Raleigh.

Public also critical

Regardless of who drew the maps or with what data, members of the public were largely critical of the maps and the redistricting process during the hearing Monday.

Andrew Silver of Durham said he doesn’t want to see more maps with almost no competitive seats, as has been the case in recent years.

“When districts are safe for one party or another, elections are decided in the primaries, not the general election,” he said. “That is a prescription for electing the most extreme candidates of both parties, leading to hyper-partisanship and gridlock.”

Other speakers focused more on specific complaints with the maps — including many residents of either Raleigh or Greensboro and their surrounding suburbs, which would be carved up into several pieces in all of the different versions of maps Republicans have made public so far.

For instance, the current congressional map has Greensboro, High Point and Winston-Salem in a single district. It’s a safe Democratic seat, represented by Kathy Manning in Congress. But every new GOP-drawn proposal would split those three Triad cities into three separate districts, all connected with rural communities an hour or more away, and all likely to elect Republicans in the future.

Joel Gallagher, a doctor from Greensboro, said he knows how that will go because the city was split between multiple rural districts in the recent past — represented by Republicans who he said “do not listen or advocate for the needs of the urban residents.”

And even one Republican activist also questioned why lawmakers want to put Greensboro in her district, which previously has just covered the rural and highly conservative northwestern corner of the state that’s represented by Republican Rep. Virginia Foxx.

“I agree with the speakers in Guilford County,” said Lynette Ramsey, a Caldwell County Republican Party leader. “We don’t have anything in common.”

Top state redistricting legislators, Sen. Ralph Hise, top left, and Rep. Destin Hall, top right, listen as several dozen members of the public address state lawmakers during a public comment hearing on Senate and House legislative redistricting maps Monday, Oct. 15, 2021 at the Legislative Building in Raleigh.
Top state redistricting legislators, Sen. Ralph Hise, top left, and Rep. Destin Hall, top right, listen as several dozen members of the public address state lawmakers during a public comment hearing on Senate and House legislative redistricting maps Monday, Oct. 15, 2021 at the Legislative Building in Raleigh.

GOP support for maps

Yet while Ramsey found some common ground with the liberal-leaning speakers at the public hearing, she also warned GOP lawmakers not to draw an even 7-7 split, as many others asked for. She predicted it would be just as likely to lead to lawsuits as a map that creates a GOP advantage.

“The only way there’s not going to be a court battle is if you give the Democrats all the seats,” she said.

Another conservative commentator, Andy Jackson of the John Locke Foundation think tank, similarly told GOP lawmakers not to be swayed by the almost unanimously critical comments they received Monday.

“Let’s not pretend that the comments we hear at these hearings are representative of the general public,” he said.

2019 deja vu?

The back-and-forth over outside consultants and map-making skulduggery may sound familiar to those who followed the state’s most recent gerrymandering lawsuit, in 2019.

In that case, a bipartisan panel of judges ruled that Republican legislators had potentially lied about an outside consultant who drew the maps, and how he drew them.

In 2016, maps giving Republicans a 10-3 advantage were ruled unconstitutional. GOP lawmakers then re-hired the same consultant who had drawn those unconstitutional maps to draw a new set of maps. Those also led to a 10-3 split and were also later ruled unconstitutional.

In that second court ruling, in 2019, the judges wrote that the consultant, Tom Hofeller, may have drawn the maps even before lawmakers approved the rules ostensibly guiding the process — something Republicans adamantly denied, both before and after that ruling.

The judges didn’t outright accuse GOP lawmakers of lying in court and to the public about it, but rather said they were “troubled” that various claims Republicans made seemed to be “highly improbable.”

For more North Carolina government and politics news, listen to the Under the Dome politics podcast from The News & Observer and the NC Insider. You can find it at link.chtbl.com/underthedomenc or wherever you get your podcasts.

Under the Dome

On The News & Observer's Under the Dome podcast, we’re unpacking legislation and issues that matter, keeping you updated on what’s happening in North Carolina politics twice a week on Monday and Friday mornings. Check us out here and sign up for our weekly Under the Dome newsletter for more political news.

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting