Sunday, May 22, 2011

McIntyre grumpy about possible split of Robeson County in redistricting. GOP says prospect makes sense.

By Bob Shiles, Staff Writer
The Robesonian May 15, 2011 
                                                                                                                                                        
Verne Strickland Blogmaster                              
U.S. Rep. Mike McIntyre
U.S. Rep. Mike McIntyre
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LUMBERTON — U.S. Rep. Mike McIntyre, fresh off his closest election since he won the District 7 seat in Congress, might have a steeper hill to climb in 2012 — if Republicans in the General Assembly get their way.
 
According to an online article published earlier this month on politico.com, state Republicans are targeting districts now represented by McIntyre and U.S. Reps Larry Kissell, Brad Miller and Heath Shuler — all Democrats — as potential majority Republican districts.

That could mean Robeson County, which is now entirely in McIntyre’s district, could be split into two separate districts. McIntyre doesn’t like that idea, saying it will water down the county’s clout in Washington, D.C.

“We need to keep Robeson County moving forward, and we want to keep Robeson County united as one county in a congressional district,” he said in a statement. “It is critical that Robeson County not be split apart, which would only diminish our voice in expressing our needs and concerns in Washington. Our county’s citizenship and needs are unique, and any effort to split those up only hurt our efforts to move forward with economic progress.

“Many Robeson County citizens have expressed concerns about redistricting to me, and they do not want Robeson County to be split two or three ways with a congressman from Charlotte, Goldsboro, or Morehead City. Putting us in a district with folks from Charlotte, Goldsboro, or Morehead City will diminish our views, needs and our communities of interest here in Robeson County and all of Southeastern North Carolina,” said McIntyre.
The highly political process of redistricting sets legislative boundaries for the next 10 years based on the last census. This will be the first Republican-controlled General Assembly to lead redistricting since Reconstruction.

Gary Strickland, the former chairman of the Robeson County Democratic Party, also worries about a fractured Robeson County.

“It would be best to keep our district the way it is. I don’t think we need to split Robeson County,” he said.

“If we were mixed up with a more conservative Mecklenburg County there would be a lot of static in our voice when it comes to voting. … We would have to woo two different congressmen.”

The current District 7 also includes parts of Bladen, Brunswick, Columbus, Cumberland, Sampson, Duplin, New Hanover and Pender counties.

Phillip Stephens, the chairman of the county Republican Party, said there are several unofficial maps circulating, some showing District 7 being expanded to the east, west, or north.

Stephens said that because of Robeson County’s size and large Democratic population, it can easily swing an election and negate the vote of two or three smaller counties.

The GOP leader said that Robeson County Republicans are lobbying for “common sense” district lines based on the region’s values and beliefs, not party designation.

“We’re keeping our eyes on the Republicans now more than the Democrats,” Stephens said.
Stephens said that because redistricting is a “political process” that occurs only once in a decade, it’s difficult to identify who holds the heavy hand in the process.

“We’re finding no one seems to know where the center of power is in redistricting,” he said. “I don’t think there is one person, Democrat or Republican, who knows how all of this is going to turn out.”

Stephens said there is a chance that local Democrats and Republicans will both be unhappy when the process is complete.

“We want to make sure that Robeson County is adequately represented, and that means by someone who is familiar with Robeson County,” Stephens said. “We don’t want to be represented by someone far distant from the county, whether he’s a Republican or Democrat.”

Stephens supported Ilario Pantano, a Republican who is from the North but has adopted Wilmington as his home, against McIntyre in last year’s General Election. McIntyre won with about 54 percent of the votes, his closest election since his first in 1996. Pantano has indicated he would run again for the District 7 seat.

According to reports, state Rep. David Lewis, a Republican from Harnett County and the senior chairman of the House Redistricting Committee, has said that draft maps will be ready by mid-June. He also has said that an unspecified number of public hearings will be held afterward.

State Rep. Garland Pierce, a Democrat who represents Robeson, Hoke and Scotland counties, serves on the House Redistricting Committee. He cautioned that the process is in its early stages.

“We’re hearing all kinds of scenarios,” he said. “Until we get the maps, everything is just speculation.”

Bob Shiles can be reached at (910) 272-6117 or bshiles@heartlandpublications.com.