Proposed congressional redistricting maps generate intense debate

by Keith Barber

Bruce Springthorpe, a Mount Airy resident, suggested throwing out the newly proposed congressional maps put forth by state Sen. Bob Rucho (R-Mecklenburg) and Rep. David Lewis (R-Harnett) and instead utilizing a computer model to divide the state into 13 equal parts during a redistricting hearing at GTCC’s Jamestown campus on July 7. (photo by Keith T. Barber)

The newly redrawn Congressional maps released by state Sen. Bob Rucho (R-Mecklenburg) and Rep. David Lewis (R-Harnett) brought forth a barrage of criticism as well as citizens who expressed support forthe changes during a redistricting hearing at GTCC’s Jamestown campus on July 7.

GTCC represented one of nine sites around the state to conduct public hearings via video teleconferencing last week.

The Rev. William J. Barber, president of the state NAACP, directed his critical statements to Rucho and Lewis. Barber said the Republican majority in the NC General Assembly should allow for easy passage of the new Congressional map later this month, “but we place our opposition to this plan on the record knowing there must be a judicial and court review, and it is not over,” he said.

Barber said the NAACP has reviewed the Rucho-Lewis proposal and found it to be “deficient, regressive and wrong in many respects.”

“First, you have chosen to prepare a plan which is bold and bodacious in its attempt to stack and pack as many racial minorities in the same districts to gain a partisan political advantage for future years for the Republican Party,” Barber said. “The plan which has been presented by this committee violates every generally accepted and recognized principle of redistricting as mandated by the US Supreme Court…. It is a perversion of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and we will meet you in court.”

Once adopted by the NC General Assembly, the Rucho-Lewis proposal will have to be “precleared” under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, according to a joint statement by Rucho and Lewis. The state can seek preclearance from the US Department of Justice or by filing a lawsuit in the US District Court of the District of Columbia.

To achieve preclearance, the state must show the plan is not “retrogressive or purposefully discriminatory,” according to the statement.

Barber assailed the Rucho-Lewis proposal for being regressive and discriminatory.

African-Americans voters have been removed from many Congressional districts and packed into the proposed 1 st , 4 th and 12 th districts, Barber said. In particular, the state NAACP takes exception to the removal of Gates, Washington, Beaufort, Craven and Wayne counties from the 1 st District under the Rucho-Lewis plan, he added.

The five rural eastern counties are among 40 in the state covered by Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

“The Rucho-Lewis congressional map disregards this long and painful history for five counties covered by Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act in drawing this map,” Barber said. “This district was developed intentionally to overcome years of disenfranchisement and voter exclusion.”

The newly proposed 1 st District excludes the five rural, eastern counties and includes a sliver of eastern Wake County and some parts of downtown Raleigh. Barber said the NAACP is also concerned about more African Americans being packed into the 12 th District —which is represented by Rep. Mel Watt — under the Rucho-Lewis proposal. The percentage of blacks in the 12 th District would increase from 44 percent to more than 50 percent under the Rucho-Lewis plan.

“Today, there are two African Americans that represent this state in the US House of Representatives [Butterfield and Watt],” Barber said. “This General Assembly is engaged in an unseemly effort to segregate African Americans and submerge our influence into two congressional districts and this is being done for the sole purpose of creating 10 districts in which Republicans can elect its members.”

Under the proposed Rucho-Lewis plan and based on straight party ticket voting in the 2010 midterm elections, the Republican Party would hold a significant advantage in eight of the state’s 13 congressional districts and would be competitive in two other districts.

Rucho and Lewis defended the proposed 2011 congressional map in their statement. In order to comply with the one-person, one-vote standard, the ideal population for a North Carolina congressional district under the 2010 Census’ 

is 733,499 and the proposed districts meet that requirement, according to the statement. New lines had to be drawn because of six of the state’s 13 congressional districts fell under the 733,499 population benchmark while the other seven districts exceeded the benchmark.

The 2010 Census reveals that the 1 st District lost population and now falls below the 733,499 population benchmark, while the 12 th District gained population and now exceeds the ideal population benchmark.

Rucho and Lewis said they met with Butterfield to find how best to add 97,500 people to his district. Rucho and Lewis said they gave Butterfield the option of including the minority community in Durham County or the minority community in Wake County in the redrawn 1 st District.

“Congressman Butterfield believed that including Wake County in his district would give him the opportunity to represent the communities reflected by Shaw University and St. Augustine College,” the statement reads. “Thus, with this adjustment to the 1 st District, for the first time in history the black community in Wake County will have the opportunity to be part of a majority black congressional district.”

“Because of the presence of Guilford County in the 12 th District, we have drawn our proposed 12 th District at a black voting age level that is above the percentage of black voting age population found in the current 12 th District,” the statement reads. “We believe that this measure will ensure preclearance of the plan.”

During last week’s public hearing, state Sen.

Malcolm Graham (D-Mecklenburg) read a statement on behalf of Mel Watt disputing a version of events offered by Rucho and Lewis.

Due to increase in population of 12 th District, Watt said he met with Rucho in April and suggested the removal of a couple of precincts from the district to meet the one-person-one vote standard and to ensure the plan complied with the Voting Rights Act “without legally packing more African Americans into the 12 th District and minimizing their influence in the adjoining congressional district,” according to the statement.

Watt complained that the plan “shifts large numbers of precincts in and out of the 12 th District in an apparent effort to increase the African American population in the district.”

Watt said in a press release: “My assessment is that the desire of the Republicans to gain partisan advantage has led them to violate both the letter and spirit of the Voting Rights Act and court cases interpreting the VRA.

The Republicans have gone out of their way to pack African-American voters into the 12 th District and, in the process, have made race the compelling rationale for the proposed district. This is neither justified nor sanctioned by the VRA.”

Mike Goodman, a High Point resident, also took issue with the proposed shape of the 12 th District, but for different reasons. Goodman said the meandering 12 th District unfairly lumps citizens of High Point in with the residents of Charlotte, and that race should not play a role in how the district is redrawn.

“I contend that the 12 th District may have once served its purpose but now offers no useful purpose in assuring access to elective office by minority candidates,” Goodman said. “This map seems to minimize both the intellectual ability of the individual while demeaning the oath taken by elected officials to serve all of their constituents. It’s about ideals, not pigmentation.”

Bruce Springthorpe, a Mount Airy resident, characterized the redrawing of congressional districts as “an abomination” and suggested utilizing computer-modeling software to create a new map.

“It is possible to use the data from the 2010 Census to draw congressional districts that are compact and contiguous — districts that are, like [Lady] Justice herself, blind of age, race, sex, religion, wealth, national origin, rural or urban, farm or business,” Springthorpe said. “But most importantly, districts that are blind to political affiliation and the quest for power that is exhibited constantly by professional politicians and their parties.”

The proposed congressional map appears to serve the party in power and not the state’s citizens, Springthorpe said.

“As a citizen, I don’t want my representative or his party assured of reelection,” he said.

“I do want the imbalance of majorities in his or her district to be so close that the representative carefully considers each and every decision, each and every vote, because getting it wrong could tip the balance against them in the next election.”

Jeff Hyde of Greensboro praised Republican lawmakers for acting fairly in redrawing the state’s congressional districts.

“They were far more noble in their creating of a congressional map — one that does not lay its allegiance to political party power,” Hyde said. “Rather the map creates 10 districts that balance both Democrats and Republicans. It has created 10 districts that are competitive and fair.”