The Democrats are making a valiant push for nonpartisan redistricting and it’s a clever plan.
Former Superior Court Judge and former President of the University of North Carolina system Tom Ross was chosen to be in charge of the nonpartisan redistricting effort and held a public forum on nonpartisan redistricting at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro Thursday, Jan. 26, which attracted over 400 people. Ross is in many ways an ideal spokesman for the cause. He is highly respected in the judicial realm, and as the former president of the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation he also has a good standing among liberal organizations.
The proposed redistricting plan Ross presented was drawn by retired Democratic and Republican judges. There is a lot of comradery amongjudges that serve together. Look at the US Supreme Court; the late Justice Antonin Scalia and Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg were good friends. Scalia was on the far right and Ginsburg the far left, but life is more than politics and the two enjoyed each other’s company.
So judges are a great place to start with a push for nonpartisan redistricting.
Ross said that they didn’t expect anybody to adopt their congressional redistricting plan the judges had drawn, but the effort was an attempt to demonstrate that if you ignore political party and draw lines that keep communities and counties together as much as possible, it’s not that difficult to draw good districts.
But it’s hard to ignore what happened to Ross when Republicans took control of the state government. Ross lost his job as president of the North Carolina university system, not because he wasn’t doing a good job – there seemed to be agreement that he was – but the Republican majority on the UNC board of trustees decided they would like to have someone running the university system that was not on the left side of the political spectrum. So Ross was removed from office for his political beliefs, not his job performance.
It was the Republicans who got rid of him, and now Ross is the spokesman for an effort to take a principle power away from the Republicans. It seems naive to assume that is simply a coincidence.
Then there are the organizations backing the idea of nonpartisan voting. The public forum was hosted by the League of Women Voters of the Piedmont Triad, which claims to be nonpartisan but is about as nonpartisan in Greensboro as the Greater Greensboro Republican Women’s Club. The big difference between the two organizations is that the Greater Greensboro Republican Women’s Club admits it is a partisan organization and the League of Women Voters is a Democratic organization pretending to be nonpartisan.
The other big backer of this nonpartisan voting push is Common Cause, a pure liberal organization. Robert Reich, who was secretary of labor under President Bill Clinton, was the board chair of Common Cause but took a leave of absence for the 2016 presidential election. Reich is extremely partisan.
The Democrats controlled the government in North Carolina for over a century, and during that time had the power to implement nonpartisan redistricting whenever they wanted. The Democrats didn’t because their districts were gerrymandered to favor Democrats.
A fact that the Democrats always leave out of these discussions of nonpartisan redistricting is that the Republicans gained control of the state House and state Senate in districts drawn by the Democrats to favor Democratic candidates. By beating the Democrats in their own districts, the Republicans won the right to redistrict the state, which they did to favor Republicans in 2011. After over a century of having the redistricting give the advantage to the Democrats, it’s a little startling that the Democrats would be raising such a fuss after only six years of Republican drawn districts. To be fair, the Democrats should give the Republicans at least 50 years of redistricting and then start complaining.
The way this plan worked is that Ross got 10 former North Carolina judges together to draw new congressional districts not based on political parties. The districts are more compact than the current districts, but it is worth noting that even drawing districts without paying attention to political party, the analysis showed that six districts would likely be Republican, four likely Democratic and three would be toss-ups. Under the current districts drawn by Republicans, North Carolina is represented in Congress by 10 Republicans and three Democrats.
The problem with the current districts drawn by Republicans according to Ross is that the districts are either heavily Republican or heavily Democrat, so the real election is in the primaries of the respective parties. But even if the nonpartisan map drawn by the judges were accepted, the vast majority of North Carolinians would still be voting in heavily partisan districts and only four of the 13 districts would likely have competitive races in the general election.
If that is the best that can be done, maybe it’s not worth doing.
Ross talked about the old 12th Congressional District that stretched from Greensboro to Charlotte down I-85, and he noted that it was originally drawn by the Democrats, and although it was according to many the ugliest district in the country, it survived numerous court challenges as long as it was drawn by Democrats.
When the Republicans drew essentially the same district in 2011, it was ruled unconstitutional. So it would seem it’s not the district that matters but who draws it.
Ross did keep referring to the original map drawn by Republicans, which included that famous 12th Congressional district, and kept showing that map. What he didn’t show nearly as often was the current congressional districts, the ones that were in use for the 2016 election, which are much more compact and have nothing that even approaches the old 12th Diistrict in ugliness.
In fact, it looked like the 12th Congressional District that elected Rep. Alma Adams in 2016 is pretty much the same district as the one on the map drawn by the judges.
Ross also noted that the judges’ map had to be tweaked because it had to comply with the voting rights act, which means it has to have two majority-minority districts. He didn’t go over the percentages but said that they met the requirements, which is an interesting statement. One of the complaints the Republicans had when they were redrawing the congressional districts last year, after the previous districts had been ruled unconstitutional, was that the courts refused to supply them with figures on what the acceptable percentages were for a majority-minority district.
Perhaps since Ross is a Democrat, the Democratic judges who made the ruling would tell him what the acceptable percentages were.
Actually, none of this is the least bit shocking. Ross noted that when the Democrats were in power many Republicans were in favor of nonpartisan redistricting and now that the Republicans are in power they aren’t in favor of nonpartisan redistricting but the Democrats are.
The bottom line is that the people of North Carolina by an overwhelming majority elected Republicans to run the state. Part of running the state is redistricting, and to give the Democrats as much power to redistrict as the Republicans is going against the will of the people.
The real problem here is that it’s 2016 and the Democrats don’t see anyway they can get control of the legislature in 2020, which will mean another 10 years of Republican districts, so the best they can do is to try and trick the Republicans into giving away some of their power.
It doesn’t appear likely to happen.