Restoring power to the people
by Chris Fitzsimon NC Policy Watch
The folks at the North Carolina Coalition for Lobbying and Government Reform (of which NC Policy Watch is a member) are on a tour of the state these days, renewing their call for a long overdue independent redistricting process to draw legislative and congressional district lines more fairly.
They couldn’t have picked a better time. One of the few silver linings of the absurd federal government shutdown is that it has focused attention again on the ridiculous way we currently draw political districts in North Carolina.
Polls show that voters in the state and across the nation overwhelmingly opposed the shutdown and believe that Republicans in Congress were primarily responsible for it. Yet the majority of Republicans in the U.S. House and six members of North Carolina’s congressional delegation voted against legislation that ended the shutdown and prevented the United States from defaulting on its debts.
Those lawmakers are not worried at all about losing their seats in the 2014 general election. Their district lines were drawn in a way that makes it virtually impossible for them to lose to a Democratic opponent next November.
Their political worry is a Republican challenger from the right, someone who will accuse them of not being conservative enough because they did not cater to the fringe of their party that makes up a significant part of the Republican base.
More people in North Carolina in 2012 voted for Democrats for Congress than voted for Republicans, yet there are nine Republicans in the state’s House delegation and just four Democrats. The state was almost evenly split in votes for the General Assembly, yet Republicans won supermajorities in the House and Senate.
The supermajorities did not come from the will of the voters, but from the skill of the folks who drew the precise districts that divided communities and neighborhoods and city blocks to maximize partisan advantage.
The result is a Congress and General Assembly that do not reflect the will of the voters in a relatively evenly divided state.
And Republicans did not break any new ground when they drew the maps in 2011. Democrats did the same thing every ten years when they were in control of the redistricting pen and there were elections where Democrats maintained control of the General Assembly even though they received a minority of the statewide vote.
Republicans just had newer, better technology and could be more precise in their gerrymandering.
Ending the practice of politicians choosing their voters by turning over the redistricting responsibilities to an independent process is not a new idea either. It has been around for a while and leaders of both political parties have supported it, but never at the same time.
Virtually all the current state House and Senate Republican leaders sponsored legislation for redistricting reform while they were in the minority and Democrats resisted.
Now most Democrats support the concept, and some Republicans are balking, though it’s worth noting that the House passed reform legislation in 2011. The Senate never considered it.
The N.C. Coalition for Lobbying and Government Reform is keeping the pressure on and has members from the across the political and ideological spectrum. The struggle has always been to get the public to focus on an issue that often seems arcane and only interesting to political insiders.
It’s not arcane anymore. Not after a small group of members of the U.S. House of Representatives in iron clad safe districts held the country hostage and shut the government down and don’t have to worry about their political opposition holding them accountable for it in a general election.
Democracy works best when elected officials are accountable to the voters, not protected by surgically drawn district lines.
Both political parties have benefitted from their cynical gerrymandering of the lines that have thwarted or at least diminished the will of the electorate. Let’s hope the Coalition succeeds soon in changing the system and restoring power to the people, where it belongs.
Fitzsimon is the executive director of NC Policy Watch.
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