Carolina Journal News Reports
RALEIGH – A government reform group is prodding lawmakers to enact a measure that would take the process of redrawing legislative and congressional maps out of lawmakers’ hands and hand it to its nonpartisan staff.
But the leader of the state Senate indicated that senators might not have an appetite for taking up the House-passed bill this session.
“I don’t know that this year is the year for us to address the issue,” Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, said Tuesday during a press conference. “I think the timing for having those types of discussions would be at a time when we’re not engaged in litigation about issue.”
A number of groups have sued the state over the new congressional and legislative maps approved by the General Assembly last year. However, the U.S. Justice Department has approved the maps and they are in effect for the 2012 elections.
The N.C. Coalition for Lobbying and Government Reform is pushing the Senate to approve a bill that the House approved last year that would put the drawing of new maps in the hands of the nonpartisan legislative staff. It would be in effect for the redistricting process following the 2020 census.
It is patterned after a procedure that has been in place in Iowa since the 1980s.
After the nonpartisan legislative staff draws the maps (congressional, state House, and state Senate), the plans would be put before legislators for an up-or-down vote. They wouldn’t be allowed to change the plans.
If the vote failed, the staff would repeat the process up to two times. If none of the staff-drawn plans were ratified, then the General Assembly would draw the maps.
Former 4th District U.S. Rep. Bill Cobey, a Republican, was among those pushing for the nonpartisan redistricting process during Tuesday’s press conference. Cobey, a former state GOP chairman, noted that he helped file a lawsuit against the legislative redistricting plans a decade ago.
“That experience was extremely painful and very expensive,” Cobey said. He said called the redistricting process “highly partisan.”
Cobey noted that the state’s population shift to more urban areas provides more opportunities for partisan gerrymandering.
“There’s got to be a better way,” Cobey said.
Gene Nichol, a law professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, noted the flow of lawsuits related to North Carolina redistricting maps. He said that the problems with redistricting aren’t restricted to one party.
“We have had Democratic abuse and Republican abuse,” Nichol said.
Barry Smith is an associate editor of Carolina Journal.