RALEIGH – When Republicans took control of the North Carolina General Assembly in 2010, their victory won them more than just the ability to write the state budget or act on their legislative agenda. For the first time in the modern era, they won the power to draw electoral districts for federal, state, and even some local offices.
The GOP has exercised that power, even as some Republican leaders and members continued to offer rhetorical support for their longstanding position in favor of redistricting reform. The new maps for U.S. House, N.C. House, and N.C. Senate strongly favor Republican candidates. Those maps are the single-biggest reason – not the economy, not fundraising disadvantages, not concern over the national ticket – why so many Democrats are retiring or running for other offices in 2012.
That the GOP’s redistricting advanced their partisan interest is no surprise. Democrats crafted past districts to advance their own partisan interest. I’ll stick to my guns: voters are served best by competitive politics, and redistricting reform would make North Carolina politics more competitive.
But Democrats and liberal groups upset with the new maps have taken their critique two steps further. First, they argue that the Republican maps violate the state constitutional and federal voting-rights law. This issue will be decided in court. I doubt that the plaintiffs will prevail on their mostly novel legal claims, but I suppose we’ll find out before long.
Second, Democrats and liberals argue that the new maps exhibit a Republican bias against women, given that a significant number of Democratic lawmakers who happen to be female have been double-bunked, either with fellow Democrats or with Republicans, or drawn into GOP-leaning districts.
This issue will be decided not by a court of law but by the court of public opinion. I understand why those making the claim think it is politically expedient. I don’t agree, largely because the claim is rather silly.
Republicans freely admit that, whenever possible, they sought to draw maps to benefit their candidates and damage the electoral prospects of Democrats. Citing instances of Democratic women caught in the GOP’s redistricting net does not constitute evidence of an anti-female bias unless there is no other, more plausible explanation for how the maps are designed.
But there is.
Using ratings of the new districts from the North Carolina Free Enterprise Foundation and the Civitas Institute, I assembled a list of seats currently held by Democrats that are definitely or potentially endangered by the GOP maps. There are 11 such seats, eight in the House and three in the Senate. Of those 11 Democratic incumbents, six are men and five are women. Some are retiring. Some face tough elections this fall.
If you expand the scope to include districts that aren’t likely to switch parties, there is one female Democratic senator, Linda Garrou, whose district was drawn out from under her in favor of a new majority-minority district in Forsyth County. There are also cases where two Democratic women were double-bunked (Pricey Harrison/Maggie Jeffus in House 57 and Susan Fisher/Patsy Keever in House 114) and other cases where Democratic women were double-bunked with Democratic men (Verla Inkso/Joe Hackney in House 56, Deborah Ross/Grier Martin in House 34, Diane Parfitt/Rick Glazier in House 44, and Ellie Kinnaird/Bob Atwater in Senate 23).
Yes, the percentage of Democratic women affected by these changes is higher than the percentage of Democratic men or Republican members affected by similar changes. But to jump from that statistical difference to sweeping accusations of sexism illustrates precisely what is wrong with substituting statistical aggregates for actual proof of discrimination. (Racial Justice Act defenders, please take note.)
Use some common sense, folks. To prove sexism, you can’t just compare the percentages, because male and female members are not equally distributed across the range of competitive and noncompetitive districts. The GOP was out to maximize its victories. Show me a case where the Republicans passed up a feasible opportunity to subject a male Democrat to electoral risk, and you may have the beginnings of an argument.
So far, however, here’s all that can be said on the matter based on the available evidence:
• Female Democrats such as Marian McLawhorn, Edith Warren, Alice Bordsen, and Jennifer Weiss who have long represented swing areas of North Carolina were certainly endangered as Republicans redrew Eastern, Triangle, and Triad districts to improve GOP chances to gain seats. But if those Democrats had been male, the Republicans would have done exactly the same thing to them – and did so in other swing counties where the Democratic seats happen to be held by men.
• Double-bunking works both ways. Hackney is retiring, not Insko. Atwater is retiring, not Kinnaird. Parfitt is retiring, but not because she has to run against Glazier. He’s seeking higher office. And Ross seems at least as likely to hold House 34 as Martin is. Even in cases where female incumbents are headed for the exits, it is quite possible that nearby, Democratic-leaning open seats will elect new female lawmakers.
To suggest that the Republican line-drawers waged a war on women, you have to believe that they passed up easy victories against Democratic men in order to produce electoral threats to Democratic women. There is no evidence whatsoever for this ludicrous proposition. The GOP set out to maximize their 2012 prospects – period.
Hood is president of the John Locke Foundation.