Tuesday, July 26, 2011

NC lawmakers like three sets of redistricting maps. Final passage may come Thursday.

Verne Strickland Blogmaster  July 26, 2011

Associated Press / July 25, 2011 / 9:39 PM

The General Assembly completed most of its work Monday on proposed district maps for its own seats and for North Carolina's congressional delegation, but Democrats predicted Republicans would have to redraw them later because they'll be labeled illegal in litigation.

Republicans leading the once-a-decade redistricting process brushed aside the Democratic admonishments and substitute maps and approved the boundaries the GOP calls lawful following hours of debate. The Senate gave its approval to a map for the chamber's 50 seats and passed proposed boundaries for 13 congressional seats. The House also approved a plan for its 120 seats.

The largely party-line votes set the stage for final passage of the maps by Thursday, but they will still have to be signed off on by a federal court or U.S. Justice Department attorneys to ensure compliance with the Voting Rights Act before they can be used for the 2012 elections. Other litigation also is likely as Democrats continued to disagree with Republicans over how the GOP apportioned black voters in all three maps.

Democrats predicted the GOP-penned maps would never be implemented because they violated federal and state laws and court rulings. They said the boundaries weaken the political influence of black voters by lumping them in certain districts to isolate them and make surrounding districts more white and Republican. Sen. Dan Blue, D-Wake, who is black, said the GOP produced "ghettoized" districts.

"The judges will see the maps for what they are, and what they are is an attempt to disenfranchise African Americans by segregating them and diminishing their voting rights and the influence of women in North Carolina," said Rep. Deborah Ross, D-Wake, as the House debated proposed House districts. "Those two groups were not listened to in the process."

Republicans disagreed and spent most of Monday defending the maps. They cite legal rulings and the federal Voting Rights Act in arguing they're required to create majority-black districts - of which they drew more than 30 - where the population allows it and to protect the state from outside lawsuits.

The map "produced fair, legal and competitive districts that will allow any candidate to run in these districts with the opportunity to win," said Sen. Bob Rucho, R-Mecklenburg, the Senate Redistricting Committee chairman as the congressional maps were debated.

Districts are redrawn every 10 years to reflect population growth reported by the U.S. Census. With Republicans holding a majority in both chambers for the first time in 140 years, GOP lawmakers are seeking to put their imprint on boundaries to extend their control of the General Assembly and boost their representation on Capitol Hill.

The congressional plan approved by the Senate would increase Republican voter registration in four districts currently held by Democrats and place two pairs of incumbents - Democrats Larry Kissell and Mike McIntyre as well as David Price and Brad Miller - in the same districts.

The plan was approved after the GOP majority in the chamber rejected several Democratic amendments. One would have reworked all 13 districts, while two others would have adjusted districts in the mountains and the Triangle region.

Elections data project that Republicans could win as many as 10 of the state's 13 U.S. House seats in the new plan. Democrats currently have a 7-6 advantage. The Democrats' alternative statewide map would have given Republicans an 8-5 advantage instead, based on how many districts in which John McCain would have defeated Barack Obama in the 2008 presidential race.

The Democratic map also would have kept all of Asheville and Buncombe County in the 11th Congressional District represented by Democrat Heath Shuler and all of Robeson County in the 7th District represented by McIntyre.

Democrats also offered alternative plans that would retain so-called "influence districts" in current boundaries that have at least a 40 percent black voting-age population. Democrats argue such districts comply with the Voting Rights Act by still effectively allowing black voters to elect candidates of their choice and preserving their overall political power.

The GOP plans "were drawn specifically to dump African American voters," charged Rep. William Wainwright, D-Craven, who is black.

Democrats said their alternative plans also were better than the Republican proposals because they crossed fewer county lines and the districts were generally more compact.

Republican mapmakers say Democrats failed to offer legal evidence that "packing" exists or timely fixes to perceived problems. Rep. David Lewis, R-Harnett, the House redistricting chairman, complained that Democrats offered substitute maps on the day of the floor debate after months of redistricting discussions.

The plan "is nothing more than a strategy that once again sandbags the people of North Carolina by letting something arrive on our desks right off the press," Lewis told colleagues.

Legislative maps would draw 20 pairs of lawmakers into the same district, forcing them to run against each other if they aimed to remain in the Legislature in 2013. Twenty-one are Republicans and 19 are Democrats.

Two Democrats - Reps. Dewey Hill of Columbus County and Bill Brisson of Bladen County - voted with Republicans in passing the House plan 68-50. GOP Rep. Glen Bradley of Franklin County, drawn into the same district with Nash County Republican Jeff Collins, voted against the map.

The congressional plan still must be approved by the House. The House and Senate also must take up the districts for each other's chamber, but historically each chamber has avoided changing the other's boundaries without permission. Redistricting plans don't go to Gov. Beverly Perdue's desk, becoming law immediately without her consideration.