News: CJ Exclusives

Redistricting coalition faces tough odds in General Assembly

Broad ideological coalition says changing demographics should bring about nonpartisan reforms; Lewis doubts plans would give desired results

Mitch Kokai, senior political analyst at the John Locke Foundation, endorses redistricting reform at a Wednesday press conference. (CJ photo by Kari Travis)
Mitch Kokai, senior political analyst at the John Locke Foundation, endorses redistricting reform at a Wednesday press conference. (CJ photo by Kari Travis)

A coalition of policy and advocacy groups renewed their efforts to convince the General Assembly to set up an independent redistricting process based on a model adopted in Iowa as a means of ending partisan gerrymandering.

The Iowa redistricting model empowers the nonpartisan legislative staff to draw the congressional and legislative maps. It emphasizes compactness, and doesn’t allow the staff to take incumbency or partisanship into consideration.

The appeal to lawmakers came hours before the 2017 General Assembly was set to begin its long session, and it’s likely to face a skeptical reception.

Rep. David Lewis, R-Harnett, who chairs the House Rules Committee and co-chairs the House Elections Committee, attended the final portion of the press conference.

“I think a lot of the merits that are portrayed that the Iowa plan brings — reduce litigation, better product, more participation, more people running for office — frankly just don’t bear out,” Lewis said. “If you look at the number of unopposed seats in Iowa, the legislature, it was roughly comparable with what we had here.”

Backers of the plan argue that now is the best time to establish a nonpartisan process for redrawing congressional and legislative maps.

“Demographics have changed and no party knows exactly where those demographics are going to land in 2020 and after that,”said Rick Glazier, executive director of the liberal N.C. Justice Center and a former state representative. “The best time to do redistricting reform is always going to be when there are questions for either side.”

Mitch Kokai, senior political analyst at the John Locke Foundation, noted that redistricting has attracted recent headlines in North Carolina. On Tuesday, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a stay of a lower court’s order for the General Assembly to redraw legislative districts by March 15 and to hold elections under those new maps this fall.

“It is entirely consistent to argue that the maps for the 2012 elections and those drawn for the 2016 elections on the congressional side were legal and constitutional, but also bad,” Kokai said. “Just because the lawmakers can draw the districts the way they have doesn’t mean that they should.”

Lewis appeared not to be swayed by the coalition’s arguments. “I maintain that partisanship is a part of who each and every one of us are,” Lewis said. “So we can claim that we do not intend to exercise partisanship, but I think it’s more honest to say that partisanship is a part of who we are and will always be a part — not the sole, not the defining — requirement of redistricting or most anything else we do. But it will always be a part of what we do.”

Lewis said it’s “either naïve or disingenuous” to say that anything can truly be nonpartisan.

Other groups supporting the nonpartisan redistricting process include AARP North Carolina, NC Policy Watch, the League of Women Voters, Common Cause NC, the NC Sierra Club, the NC Conservation Network, NC Women United, and Democracy NC.

  • disqus_nBMMez9Ikj

    Lets hope this never happens in NC. If a “nonpartisan” commission were set up it would then quickly be totally infiltrated with democrat operatives and spell the end to the Republican party in NC.

    • ProudlyUnaffiliated

      Indeed. Furthermore, it will be the worst, nastiest, most secretive partisans on those “independent” commissions. Elected officials usually at least need to maintain some decorum to continue getting re-elected, not so with appointed bureaucrats.

  • Cyclops618

    An independent redistricting commission is a ruse for the left to gain control of legislative bodies. In every case where an “independent” redistricting plan has been adopted, liberal Democrats gain seats and Republican conservatives lose. Politics reigns whether districts are drawn by legislatures or “independent” bodies.

    • ProudlyUnaffiliated

      Thank you!

  • ProudlyUnaffiliated

    I have been waiting for years, impatiently I might add, for someone, anyone, to state the obvious: everything done in, for, or in the proximity of the General Assembly is a political act. Why? Because people are involved and people are political by nature. Hence, even the process of so-called redistricting reform will be rife will politics as will be final new method, aka “reform.” We have a process to draw districts and have the General Assembly vote on them. It is political. Any method will be political. And if someone wants to strip the General Assembly, which I remind you consist of the elected representatives of the people, of their authority and responsibility to do this in order to replace them with a new method, it too will be political. There is no way out of this, this onion has an infinite number of layers. Change the subject to something we can actually grapple with intelligently.

  • Bobert

    We can forever expect the legality of legislative districts to always be an issue until the courts allow the lines to be drawn mathematically and geographically absent the consideration of race.

  • I am Deplorable

    Dear Democrats you lost. Instead of constantly trying to change the rules go win an election. Try winning with ideas instead of just using the courts. You are pathetic.

  • Julia Dixon

    That settles it. If all the Lefties are for it…then it is wisest to be agin’ it!