Redistricting minimizes competition in state legislative races

by Eric Ginsburg

Lewis-Dollar-Dockham 4 – Guilford County

by Eric Ginsburg

When many Guilford County 112 residents go to the polls on Nov. 6, they will be presented with few or 082 no options in the races for state legislature thanks in large part to redistricting.

Districts were drawn in an attempt to guarantee certain party victories, legisla- 507 tors in both parties said, making many of the contested elections for the legislature 043 competitions in name only.

“Some folks don’t have races,” Guilford County delegation Chair Sen. Don Vaughan said. “They were carved out for political purposes. Guilford was divided more than any other county in North Carolina, and in my opinion it was gerrymandered.”

Every 10 years after the Census is released, the party in power in Raleigh redraws district lines to account for population changes, though it is widely 17 16 understood that the majority party creates maps that cement and further its control in the legislature. Vaughan was one of a’  Created by the few Democrats who was drawn out of his seat in the county; he will not run again.

The Guilford County delegation, currently consisting of six House members and four senators, will include returning Democratic reps. Marcus Brandon and Pricey Harrison and Sen. Gladys Robinson as well as newcomer Republican Rep.

Jon Hardister. The portion of Sen. Stan Bingham’s District 33 covering Guilford County was redrawn into other districts, decreasing the delegation’s overall size to nine members, though Brandon said Bingham wasn’t really part of the delegation and didn’t participate in their meetings.

Maggie Jeffus, who currently represents House District 59, was drawn into fellow Democrat Harrison’s district, which created a favorable race for a Republican.

After a competitive Republican primary, Hardister will walk through the November election to take Jeffus’ old seat.

Hardister, the vice president at First Carolina Mortgage, realized he wanted to run for office as an intern with US Rep. Howard Coble. He said he is primarily running because of the economy and that he hoped to help make the tax code simpler, including the removal of corporate taxes and possibly through eliminating income tax.

Hardister said the state shouldn’t control liquor sales and that he wanted to remove regulations that unnecessarily hindered business growth, citing a law that requires breweries that produce more than 70,000 barrels annually to hire a wholesale distributor. The rule, he said, prevents companies like the local Red Oak Brewery from expanding, and indicates a need to possibly bolster the Rules Review Commission that examines such state regulations.

Hardister said he is also very concerned about rising rates of childhood obesity, diabetes and hypertension, which he said costs the state a significant amount of money through Medicaid and should be addressed through preventative education.

The lack of an opponent has allowed Hardister to attend the short session of the legislature and work more hours so he can save money before dedicating a significant amount of time to his new responsibilities.

“I don’t have opposition so I’m not going 100 miles per hour, but I am still going to events… and I’m still putting effort into it,” he said.

Jeffus and Harrison were both unhappy they were double-bunked, and neither wanted to run against the other.

“I had been there for 10 terms — 20 years — and I decided maybe it was time to stop,” Jeffus said. “It’s sort of bittersweet for me. I enjoyed my service and I appreciate my constituents allowing me to do this. I will miss it.”

Harrison, too, will breeze through the election and back into office in House District 57 after her Republican opponent and one-time Greensboro mayoral candidate Chris Phillips dropped out of the race.

Jeffus and Harrison weren’t the only female Democrats drawn into the same district, a practice known as “double bunking,” and several Democrats said there was a pattern throughout the state of pushing women out of office. Jeffus easily named other female legislators throughout the state who were in the same boat, as did House District 60 Rep. Marcus Brandon.

“I think the redistricting effort was an assault on women,” Brandon said. “They did it all over the state. It was really an anti-woman redistricting.”

Republican House District 61 Rep. John Faircloth, who served on the redistricting committee, said it was a coincidence that female legislators in the county were double bunked and that there wasn’t a pattern statewide targeting women.

“I don’t see how they feel that redistricting would affect the female candidates,” Faircloth said. “Obviously redistricting tends to favor the party that’s in the majority when it’s done.”

Faircloth, like the other legislators interviewed, said he would support an independent redistricting process the next time around. Brandon, who is unopposed in the general election, said there were multiple drawbacks to the new districts and I am disappointed that our delegation doesn’t reflect our county,” Brandon 05 said. “The bad part is that the Republican agenda does not fit well with the people of Guilford County. I don’t think that the people of Guilford County have true representation.”

127 On 12N the other hand, he said, with the 12W Republican 12E Party in power in Raleigh, 128 12S it helped to have prominent local Re- 1210 06W publicans who could advocate for the county. Faircloth, who Brandon said was 064 a real “statesman,” worked with him to improve economic development in High Point. Faircloth and Vaughan both said the 07 Guilford County delegation works well together now and regardless of who is elected in November, they expect the cooperation to continue.

08N Brandon and Hardister, who spoke highly of each other and said they are 08S friends, said they weren’t interested in adhering to party politics and hoped that an independent process could create the districts in the future.

“We have no competitive seats here and it’s boring,” Brandon said. “You can get the extremes of both sides when you get these uncompetitive races. As much as I’m liking not having an opponent, I would like one really.”

Hardister echoed that sentiment, saying he doesn’t like uncompetitive districts either, but didn’t go as far as Brandon in opposing the Voting Rights Act districts, which are currently required under federal law with the aim of protecting the idea principle of one-person-one-vote for communities of color. Hardister said he needed to do more research about Voting Rights Act districts but that it would be great if a computer could draw the districts with nonpartisan oversight.

“I’m thrilled not to have competition but it’s not about me, it’s about the voters,” Hardister said. “I don’t think we should think about people based on their race. We’re all Americans. We’re all North Carolinians. I’m absolutely 100 percent open to reform on how we draw the districts.”

Brandon, who is black, said the districts lead to split precincts and cause people of color to be used as political tools, which offends him.

“I think we should get rid of the Voting Rights Act districts, not the Voting Rights Act,” he said. “Mecklenburg doesn’t have it, and they still have plenty of black representation. We‘ll always be used as pawns in the redistricting process until we do away with VRA districts.”

Voters in several districts can still choose between Democrats and Republicans on Election Day, but in House District 62, the choice is between Republican incumbent John Blust and Libertarian challenger Kent Wilsey. Vaughan said most of the races had already been determined by skewed redistricting that specifically targeted Guilford County’s effective delegation, a process that took the decision out of the voters’ hands and left it up to the map makers, he said.

Faircloth said there weren’t any “red-hot races” for the House, which would include his race against Democratic challenger Ron Weatherford, but said the Senate District 27 race between Republican Trudy Wade and Democratic Myra Slone was very active. The seat was left open after the district’s lines were dramatically redrawn and Vaughan was cut out of it. Jeffus said she expects the Democrats to win several upsets in the legislature and the governor’s race, and that as far as the county delegation goes, she will watch the Slone-Wade race most closely.

“[Myra Slone is] working very, very hard and would be a good candidate,” Jeffus said.

Slone, a realtor with Coldwell Banker in High Point, said she decided to run for Senate District 27 after seeing multiple attacks on women by the Republicancontrolled state legislature even though she never thought she would run for office. The district leans to the right, but Brandon said he believes Slone will win.

The legislature went after women’s access to healthcare by slashing Planned Parenthood’s funding and cut women’s jobs by targeting teachers and state employees, Slone said.

“We have not had any action on jobs — they went after social issues instead,” she said. “ Wade’s views, which Slone characterized as “extreme right” wing, are not reflective of Guilford County, Slone said. Wade could not be reached for comment for this article. Wade is currently serving as a Greensboro city councilwoman and has served as a Guilford County commissioner.

Wade opposes minimum wage and other regulations on business, Slone said, adding that Republican attacks on education showed an attitude that they view business and education as opposing interests rather than two fields that should be working together.

“I don’t think that the problem is that people are making too much money,” she said of Wade’s stance on minimum wage. “We’re doing a great job with the little bit that we have [on education]. We’ve got to start paying teachers what they’re worth. It shouldn’t be businesses against schools. That’s where future jobs come from.”

Slone said District 27 was redrawn specifically for someone like Wade to win but that she believed she could defeat Wade and was doing her best to get in front of voters. Slone said she will be counting, in part, on people in rural areas who voted for Democratic US Senator Kay Hagan and people that feel Wade is too far right. Slone is also making a big push on her home turf — High Point.

The next redistricting process won’t take place for a decade, but as Vaughan pointed out, the current maps are being challenged in court and he expects the case to be heard in the next several months before being appealed to appellate court. By then, he and Jeffus will have ended their careers in the state legislature as Hardister begins his, joined by whomever else prevails in November.