Paul T. O’Connor: The relentless Republicans

Published 6:47 pm Monday, August 28, 2017

RALEIGH — If there is one indisputable observation to make about the state’s Republican legislative majority it is this: They are relentless in their efforts to protect their disproportional power.

After winning control in the outlier 2010 elections, they have spun this purple state into a bright red fiefdom.

When the courts told them they had illegally gerrymandered the 2011 Congressional districts, they reworked the districts maps and brazenly announced that they did so to retain their 10-3 majority.

Now, as legislators redraw the legislative maps that a federal appeals court has ruled illegal, they are doing the same thing. The new maps maintain the same gerrymandered, disproportionate Republican majorities.

That’s not surprising. Republicans hired the person who drew the 2011 maps to draw these. And when asked how competitive the districts would be, the party leadership bragged that they’ll win the same majorities in the next election, whether that is November 2018 or, by court order, before.

The state party’s leadership even had the gall to claim that the majorities are representative of the state’s political make-up when the voting numbers clearly show they are not.

But, when it comes to legislative elections, how would anyone know the true political make-up of the state? Many districts are so stacked for one party or the other that there are no contested general elections, just primaries.

In short, voters of the minority party in these districts, be they Republican or Democrat, know they have no chance of electing a favorable candidate not because their neighborhood or town is so clearly blue or red but because their precinct has been plucked from those of the folks down the road and put in a district that slithers across multiple jurisdictions for partisan purposes.

The legislative leadership is feigning proper procedure. They released the maps and held public hearings around the state. They did so, however, in rooms too small for the number of opponents who want to speak and at times inconvenient for people who work.

Their relentless effort to assure non-competitive elections, ones that guarantee their continued domination, isn’t restricted to rigged maps.

The courts threw out their voter identification law, one that clearly discriminated against young people and racial minorities by limiting the kinds of identification cards that would be accepted. There are efforts, however, to put a new law in place, possibly putting it into the state constitution.

Their elections boards, controlled by Republicans while Pat McCrory was governor, tried to limit voting hours and to locate precincts in areas difficult to reach for college students, for example. When McCrory lost, they sought to change who controls elections boards. Other attempts were made to restrict where college students could vote, whether in their home districts or at school, and tax penalties were attempted.

It was all aimed at ensuring that there would be big Republican majorities, regardless of overall public sentiment.

Eventually, the courts will step in. The new maps, as they stood on Friday morning, may not get court approval and the courts may appoint their own mapmaker to draw new districts.

So, what would be the downside for Republicans if we had competitive districts? My guess is that they would lose their dominant control, but still be a majority in each house. North Carolina may be purple but it’s a reddish purple.

With fairly drawn districts, Republicans would have more legitimacy because they would have been elected democratically. But they wouldn’t have their supermajorities and the non-competitive system that allows them to ram through radical policies.

In the end, it is that absolute power that they seek so relentlessly to protect.

Paul T. O’Connor has covered state government for 39 years.