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Kirk Kovach: Fixing gerrymandering would aid in budget impasse

By Kirk Kovach

For over a month, the state of North Carolina has been mired in a budget impasse.

Gov. Roy Cooper stands firm for Medicaid expansion, while House Speaker Tim Moore and Senate Leader Phil Berger stand firm in, well, not Medicaid expansion.

The curious thing, at least in the North Carolina House, is that any Democratic member will tell you their Republican colleagues are interested in Medicaid expansion.

What matters more than the feelings of the members is the leadership. If Moore doesn’t want to bring Medicaid expansion to the floor, he has no obligation to.

But even if the leadership doesn’t want to address the issue, why do sympathetic Republican members stay silent, if some actually support a form of expansion?

Part of it, no doubt, is the political climate. Rigid adherence to the party line is all that matters in a primary, and winning the primary is everything for many members.

Right now, Common Cause v. Lewis is working its way through the North Carolina courts; the ultimate decision in that case will have longstanding implications for democracy in the Tar Heel State.

Common Cause challenges the gerrymandering epidemic in North Carolina, and it would make quite a difference in the way things run around here.

First, the aforementioned Republican members would still have to worry about losing elections, of course, but not to other Republicans. Introductory political science courses teach you an evergreen political maxim: politicians are single-minded seekers of re-election.

Apart from noble aspirations and legitimate concern for the well-being of their constituents, none of it matters if you lose your seat.

Gerrymandering relates to the budget impasse and every other issue in North Carolina, because it prevents the true majority of North Carolinians from electing the best possible representative for their district.

Just because you live in a Republican-leaning district doesn’t necessarily mean your representative ought to be a rigid, hardline conservative. The point of a representative democracy is to elect people to act in our stead so that we all don’t have to drop everything and vote on important issues all the time.

Ideally, the representatives would actually be representative; that is, they would reflect the sentiment of the majority in their district. If you live in a deeply Republican district, that may not be the case.

Primaries in those districts decide the victor, not the general election. Often, that means a race to the extremes.

Being the more moderate or reasonable candidate in a primary is a demerit, not a boon to your candidacy.

That sends to Raleigh people who are adamant in their positions and unwilling to compromise. And that leads you to a budget impasse more than 30 days after there should’ve been a deal.

Whether the leaders in the General Assembly like it or not (they don’t), North Carolinians elected Cooper in 2016 to balance what had been one-party rule.

While gerrymandered districts helped to maintain their majorities in the legislature, the supermajorities dissipated and now Democrats have leverage. That’s how government is supposed to work, even if it may inconvenience those accustomed to one-party governance.

Kirk Kovach is from Rowan County and writes for politicsnc.com.

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