Opinion: The Woodshed

Census data and constitutional mandates put House Dems at a disadvantage

Members of the state House of Representatives jointly take the oath of office in January as the 2017 General Assembly session opened. (CJ photo by Don Carrington)
Members of the state House of Representatives jointly take the oath of office in January as the 2017 General Assembly session opened. (CJ photo by Don Carrington)

Part three of a three-part series outlining an independent analysis of census data.

Republicans will have a strong advantage politically in both chambers of the General Assembly for the considerable future.

In the second part of our series, we looked at the future of the state senate, which will look different but favor the GOP going forward. Specifically, the analysis found the census data and constitutional requirements would likely result in 25 strong GOP seats, 17 strong Democrat seats, and eight toss-up seats. The state Senate is a 50-seat chamber.

As we examine the future of the state House through the census numbers and the new county groupings as mandated by the North Carolina Constitution’s whole county provision, North Carolina Democrats face an enormously difficult route to capturing a majority. According to the Differentiators analysis, in the near future, it is more likely that Republicans capture a veto-proof supermajority than Democrats are able to capture a majority.

Specifically, consultants Jim Blaine and Ray Martin, using independent data, find that population trends, residential housing patterns, and constitutional mandates, including North Carolina’s whole county provision, is likely to result in 50% of the seats (60-seats) strongly favoring the GOP, and only 34% (41-seats) strongly favoring Democrats.

Nineteen of the 120 seats, (16%) are expected to be toss-ups.

Since the early 2000s, when courts required full enforcement of the whole county provision, North Carolina has had a built-in firewall against extreme gerrymandering. It is also a requirement that currently works against Democrats because they are so highly concentrated in such few areas of the state.

Metro Counties

Democrats are likely to come up short of what they need to be competitive in the state House in North Carolina’s largest metro counties. Democrats need those to improve their political positions in both the State House and State Senate. Crunching the numbers, it’s possible that despite strong growth in the states four largest counties: Wake, Mecklenburg, Guilford, and Cumberland, plus Buncombe and Forsyth, Democrats may, in fact, gain few if any net seats, crushing their hopes of taking a house majority sometime before the end of the decade.

Wake County currently has 11 members of the North Carolina House, 10 of them held by Democrats.

Wake County will add two seats bringing the total 13.

Blaine and Martin contend that Democrats will continue to control 10 of the 13 seats, with the GOP able to retain the one seat they currently have. Blaine and Martin contend there will be two toss-up seats in Wake County.

Mecklenburg currently has 12 NC. House seats, 11 controlled by Democrats, and one seat is held by a Republican. The new map will add one seat to Meck.  The prediction is the new map will have 10 Democrat seats, one GOP seat, and two toss-up seats.

Guilford County will continue to have six house seats. Currently, four are controlled by Democrats and two by Republicans, and in the short run this is unlikely to change, with the predicted new map containing four Democrat seats, one solid GOP seat, and one toss-up with a slight GOP lean.

Cumberland is similar and it will continue to have four evenly split seats. However, for most of the past decade, Democrats controlled three of the four Cumberland seats. The new map is expected to have two solid Democrat seats, one solid GOP seat, and one toss-up.

Buncombe will continue to have three seats, all currently held by Democrats. However, in the new map, one of the new seats is expected to be a toss-up seat that the GOP has a chance at.  So, Democrats will gain nothing out of Buncombe and might lose one seat — at least some of the time — over the next decade.

Forsyth will continue to have 4 seats that are fully contained in the county, and one district that will be combined with Stokes, instead of Yadkin for the previous decade. Currently, three seats are held by the GOP and two by Democrats. The new configuration will produce two solid seats for both parties and one toss-up.

The required county grouping of Johnston and Harnett will produce 4 GOP house seats, an increase of one, creating a new GOP seat most likely anchored in fast-growing Johnston.

A new nine-county grouping of Yancey, Avery, Mitchell, McDowell, Henderson, Polk, Rutherford, Cleveland, and Gaston will produce seven GOP districts but is currently home to 8 GOP Representatives so there will be one double-bunking.

A new county grouping of Richmond, Randolph, Chatham, Lee, Moore will likely produce four GOP districts and one Democrat district. It’s currently home to five GOP and one Dem representative. There will likely be one GOP double-bunking but could also put House minority leader Robert Reives, D-Chatham, into a GOP leaning seat, as Chatham will no longer be paired with Durham.

A grouping of Wayne and Duplin counties will provide some unique issues. This group is currently home to two GOP and one Democrat representative. However, there will only be two districts here, perhaps resulting in one GOP seat and one toss-up seat. This could potentially create a competitive contest between Democrat House Minority Whip Raymond Smith D – Wayne, and House Republican Majority Leader John Bell, R-Wayne.

A new grouping of Nash and Wilson County will also present a challenge for Democrats.  Currently the home of two Democrats and one Republican, the new grouping is losing one seat. The prediction is both seats will be toss-ups.

A required grouping of Currituck, Dare, Chowan, Perquimans, Washington, Tyrell, Hyde, Beaufort, Pamlico is currently home to three GOP House members, Rep. Ed Goodwin, R-Chowan, Rep. Bobby Hanig, R-Currituck, and Rep. Keith Kidwell, R-Beaufort However, this grouping will only have two seats, with the likely result forcing Rep. Kidwell into a district with either Rep. Hanig or Rep. Goodwin.