New NC lawmaker-approved redistricting plans give pathways to Democrats

Published 9:14 pm Thursday, February 17, 2022

By Gary D. Robertson

Associated Press

RALEIGH — The North Carolina legislature on Thursday completed new redistricting plans that Republicans contend will meet fairness directives of state justices who struck down previously approved maps as illegal partisan gerrymanders that penalized Democrats.

A map for the state’s 14 U.S. House seats approved by the General Assembly was touted by the GOP for having four highly competitive districts, some of which could threaten reelection prospects for incumbents. Republican legislators who drew the plan for the coming decade cited district-by-district results from statewide elections going back to 2016.

“We believe that the map is constitutional. We believe that it is fair to all candidates, voters (and) political parties in the state,” said Sen. Warren Daniel, a co-chair of the Senate redistricting committee. “It will reflect the will of the people if adopted by the court.”

Republicans would have an advantage in the congressional plan as well as in the new maps for state House and Senate districts that also received final approval Thursday. But there would be pathways for Democrats to win a majority of seats in all of the maps during a strong year for the party.

The congressional map replaces one that the state Supreme Court threw out earlier this month along with districts for the state House and Senate. Judges accepted evidence from voters and advocacy groups who sued that the lines completed in November would have ensured Republican victories in 10 of the 14 U.S. House seats on ballots in the fall and GOP legislative majorities in almost every political environment — even as statewide elections are usually closely divided.

The majority of justices told lawmakers to come up with replacement plans by Friday. A three-judge trial court must decide by this Wednesday — the eve of the restart of candidate filing for the May 17 primary — whether the remedial maps comply with the state constitution or must be adjusted further.

Republicans currently hold an 8-5 congressional seat advantage in North Carolina, which is getting a 14th seat this decade from population growth in the census. Republicans have controlled the state House and Senate since 2011 and spent the 2010s redrawing maps because federal and state courts overturned boundaries on partisan and racial gerrymandering claims.

The new congressional map would create six districts that appear to strongly favor a Republican candidate and four favoring a Democrat, according to statewide election data presented by legislative staff. Among the four remaining districts, two could be slightly Republican and the other two likely tossups.

While that could still lead to 10 Republican seats in a good election year for the GOP, Democrats could win eight seats in a “wave election” for the party.

The toss-up districts would encompass portions of current districts represented by first-term Democratic Rep. Kathy Manning of Greensboro and four-term Republican Rep. David Rouzer of Wilmington. Both won comfortably in 2020.

Other competitive districts would be a 13th District stretching from the affluent Raleigh-area suburbs south and east into rural counties and a 14th District taking parts of Charlotte west along the South Carolina border to the edge of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Neither district likely will have an incumbent running in them.

Democrats offered criticisms of the congressional plan while voting against it, saying it still needlessly split the Greensboro-Winston-Salem area into three districts and omitted a district sought for the entire Sandhills region. Unsuccessful Democratic amendments likely would have solidified another seat for the party.

Democrats and Republicans in the state House gave near-unanimous approval late Wednesday to a map for the chamber’s 120 districts, as several Democratic amendments were accepted by GOP leaders.

But bipartisan support was lacking on a plan for the state Senate’s 50 districts, which was approved by the chamber on a party-line vote. Senate Democrats said that map failed to address the primary ruling of the Supreme Court — that Democrats should have as good a chance as Republicans to win a majority over the coming decade if their candidates receive more votes over time.

“The voters that go cast their ballots do so because they want to feel like their votes are meaningful,” Democratic Sen. Jay Chaudhuri of Wake County said, adding that the remedial map “still diminishes the will of our people.” Republicans used parliamentary maneuvers to block votes on several Democratic amendments.

While Republicans remained favored to retain their General Assembly majorities, it will be a tall order under the replacement maps for the GOP to earn veto-proof majorities.

Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper can’t use his veto stamp on redistricting plans, but it has been largely effective in recent years at blocking many policy choices of Republicans on issues like immigration, abortion and how racism is taught in public schools.

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