Is there a better way to draw legislative and congressional districts? Supporters of a new “fair redistricting” bill think so, and they’re pushing North Carolina state legislators to end gerrymandering, the current practice that lets the party in power draw boundaries to maximize its election chances.
The N.C. Coalition for Lobbying & Legislative Reform will host a nonpartisan forum on the topic this Tuesday, Feb. 18, from 7 to 8:30 pm at St. Alban’s Episcopal Church, 301 Caldwell Lane, Davidson.
Jane Pinsky of N.C. Coalition for Lobbying & Legislative Reform will facilitate the panel which will include speakers from both sides of the political aisle, from liberal to conservative:
- Marcus Bass of Common Cause
- Becki Gray of the John Locke Foundation
- Dawn Moretz, a teacher
- Harry Taylor of Charlotte, a former congressional candidate and author of “You Can’t Get There From Here”
- Rep. Charles Jeter (R-Huntersville), who supports nonpartisan redistricting.
- Former state Rep. Shawn LeMond
A bill that came up last year before the North Carolina legislature (House Bill 606) would ban redistricting designed to favor one party. It also would put the task of drawing new district lines in the hands of an independent Temporary Redistricting Advisory Commission. Commission members would be independent registered votes and not elected officials or their relatives.
Opponents of gerrymandering say it limits voter choice and leads to voter disengagement and disenchantment.
Taylor is helping to promote the “fair redistricting” bill and brings personal experience to the task: He ran unsuccessfully for the 9th Congressional District seat as a Democrat, against longtime Republican incumbent Sue Myrick. She retired in 2012. Taylor calls Myrick “an 18-year beneficiary of the heavily gerrymandered District 9″ and notes that Republicans have held the seat for 60 years.
Another example is the 12th Congressional District, which stretches from Charlotte to Greensboro with some sections only a narrow corridor on I-85. That was former U.S. Rep. Mel Watt’s district and it was created to ensure election of an African American to Congress from North Carolina.
Still, Taylor would like to see things change. His book uses his own story to illustrate the problem of gerrymandering, which he notes has been practiced for decades by both major political parties.
“The state General Assembly can redistrict, or re-establish voting districts, after every 10-year census,” Taylor said in an interview. “The party in control can do whatever they want to do.”
“For many many years, the Democratic party, which was in control of the General Assembly, was encouraged to get rid of gerrymandering, and they decided not to do it. in 2010, Republicans took control. They had the right to create new election district maps, and so they did that,” Taylor said.
That re-restricting, led by Sen. Bob Rucho and others, was no different, Taylor said. “The spent a lot of money creating districts and to make sure they gerrymandered to the maximum extent possible,” he said.
Taylor and other redistricting reformers see an opportunity to change the equations that have driven redistricting in the past.
“Democracy is actually squashed out of existence when you allow political parties to control who makes decisions and who votes for the things that happen in the state of North Carolina,” he said.
NCLobbyReform.org, redistricting issue page
Oct. 16, 2013, WFAE.org, Charlotte Talks program on “Fair Redistricting,” which included Harry Taylor, Jane Pinsky and Mitch Kokai of the conservative John Locke Foundation