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Gerrymandering: The next challenge?

Whoever came up with the ALS Ice Bucket challenge deserves to be enshrined in the Marketing Hall of Fame. It accomplished the dual purpose of focusing attention on Lou Gehrig’s disease while also raising millions of dollars for finding a cure. It caused us to ponder how we might employ a similar strategy in this year’s elections.
Our thoughts first turned to the recent lengthy, unpleasant and less-than-satisfying session of our General Assembly. While many changes could be advised, one of the top items on my bucket list is to institute a fair and impartial redistricting process.
Our legislators enact laws that affect every person in North Carolina and it behooves us to have the best people, selected through competitive and fair elections, making those decisions. Sadly, that isn’t the case today. Too many elections are over before votes are cast.

Fifty of the 170 seats of our legislature were automatically won when the filing deadline for the 2015-16 session ended. Seventy-nine are uncontested in November; fewer than 20 are considered truly competitive.
Why so little competition? The answer is simple: gerrymandered legislative districts that give one political party or the other overwhelming odds to win election. The incumbent or the nominee of that gerrymandered party seldom faces any stiff opposition. We are considered one of the most gerrymandered states in the nation.
We are required to redraw Congressional and legislative districts following the results of the census conducted every 10 years. Like the scenario where the inmates run the asylum, our lawmakers, the very people who stand to benefit most from those districts, are the ones drawing the maps.
For decades Republicans bemoaned this practice when Democrats controlled the legislature and drew the maps to their advantage. Now Republicans are in charge and have conveniently forgotten their great opposition to the process, taking gerrymandering to heights the Democrats never even dreamed possible. But what was a bad idea before remains a blight on our electoral process today.

Republicans will have 10 years to get retribution for all the years of perceived injustices about which they complained so vehemently. But enough is enough, as former Charlotte mayor and gubernatorial candidate Richard Vinroot and former Raleigh Mayor Charles Meeker decided. Last spring they formed an organization named “North Carolinians to End Gerrymandering Now” in an effort to end partisan redistricting. Others, including the North Carolina Coalition for Lobbying and Government Reform, former legislators and a whole congregation of groups and individuals throughout the state have concurred. About the only folks not on the bandwagon are the very ones who can do something about it, the Republican majority in both the House and Senate.

So something is needed to change this, to make this a front-burner election issue, something that will cause a land swell of public opinion to be literally poured on those running for our legislature. We need a marketing ploy as ingenious and effective as the ice bucket challenge…something that will energize voters to demand that legislative candidates pledge to vote for an independent redistricting commission or those candidates will get the proverbial bucket.
What’s your suggestion? Let this paper know. It is imperative to once and for all inaugurate a fairer redistricting process in advance of the next census.
Tom Campbell, former assistant state treasurer, is creator/host of NC SPIN, a weekly television discussion of N.C. issues airing Sundays at 10 a.m. on Time Warner Cable Channel 69 and Channel 65. Contact him at www.ncspin.com.

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