Opinion: The Woodshed

N.C. Dems ask court to eviscerate urban GOP efforts

Charlie Mulligan, Republican candidate for N.C. Senate.
Charlie Mulligan, Republican candidate for N.C. Senate.

Mecklenburg Republican Charlie Mulligan decided he could no longer wait. This week he announced his campaign for the newly drawn N.C. Senate District 41 in southern and eastern Mecklenburg County. It includes the GOP-leaning towns of Matthews and Mint Hill.

“In Mecklenburg, not only can we do better, we deserve better, and that’s why I’m running,” Mulligan told Carolina Journal.

Mulligan has a hard row to hoe to get to the state Senate. He faces a competitive GOP primary set to include former State Rep. Scott Stone. Should Mulligan win the primary, he would likely face current Democrat state Rep. Rachel Hunt, daughter of North Carolina’s only four-term governor, Jim Hunt.

But if Democrat Party-aligned special-interest groups are successful in getting the N.C. Supreme Court to strike down North Carolina’s new political maps as extreme partisan gerrymanders, Mulligan and most Republican voters will lose any opportunities in North Carolina’s largest county.

As Carolina Journal reported, a unanimous three-judge panel has upheld North Carolina’s new congressional and legislative election maps. The panel of two Republican Superior Court judges and one Democratic colleague rejected critics’ arguments that mapmakers engaged in unconstitutional partisan and racial gerrymandering. The court found that nothing in the State Constitution or state law prevents partisan consideration in map drawing.

However the State Supreme court with a Democratic majority now gets the case and could come to a different conclusion on what the Constitution says on partisan redistricting.

In fact, the Democrat groups argued in court that North Carolina’s free election clause must be interpreted to prevent GOP lawmakers from creating virtually any opportunities for GOP candidates in North Carolina’s major urban centers.

Democratic groups suing to overturn the maps wrote the court saying the political boundaries created in the Iredell-Mecklenburg County grouping are “an extreme partisan gerrymander.”

The whole-county provision of the N.C. Constitution requires all of strong GOP Iredell County to be paired with a small sliver of Mecklenburg County. The Iredell-based district is a solid GOP seat, as 88% of the voters in Senate District 37 are in red Iredell, with only 12% in Mecklenburg.

Democrats argued in court that all five of the state Senate districts fully in Mecklenburg must be drawn to safely elect five Democrats, and that having one seat that is a swing seat (Senate 41)  is unconstitutional.

“Legislative Defendants drew district lines to create four ‘safe Democratic’ seats, one ‘safe Republican’ seat, and a ‘toss-up’ seat,” the map’s critics argued.

“The effect is that the Republicans win two out of six districts under the enacted plan in several elections where they never would under the nonpartisan ensemble.”

It’s important to note that Senate District 41, in which Charlie Mulligan hopes to compete, is not a GOP-leaning seat.  The John Locke Foundation updated Civitas Partisan Index rates the seat as a slight Democrat lean, winnable by either major political party.

“The position advocated in court by allies of the Democratic Party is an affront to fair constitutional governance, ” said MeckGOP Chair Sarah Reidy-Jones. “No fact-based unbiased reading of the state Constitution can conclude that over 160,000 registered Republicans in Mecklenburg County should be prevented from having even an opportunity to elect a couple of Republican members out of 21 legislative seats in Republican-concentrated areas of the county. The Democrats are not asking for fair districts in North Carolina’s urban counties. They are asking the court to create extreme partisan gerrymanders on behalf of Democrats.”

Wake County now has five state Senate seats fully contained in North Carolina’s capital county, with one district required to be paired with all of Granville, a swing county.

N.C. Senate District 13 contains all of Granville, which is 31% of the district, with the majority of the district in northern Wake County, including Rolesville, Wake Forest, Zebulon, and 2% of the population of Raleigh. The John Locke Foundation’s Civitas Partisan Index rates the 13th District as a true toss-up district winnable by either party. Four Wake County seats are strong Democrat seats almost guaranteed to go blue.

Senate District 17 in southern Wake County is rated as a Democrat lean, but winnable by either party. It contains Holly Springs and Fuquay-Varina, as well as most of Apex and a small part of Cary.

Even though not one of Wake County’s six Senate seats is drawn to favor a GOP candidate, Democrat-aligned plaintiffs wrote to the court that the N.C. Constitution requires that the one toss-up seat (District 13) and one Democrat-leaning seat (District 17) be drawn to guarantee Democrat victories.

Carolina Journal previously reported that Wake County Republicans landed two top-tier candidates in hopes of making these seats competitive.

North Carolina’s 2020 Republican nominee for secretary of state, E.C. Sykes, is running in the open N.C. Senate 13.

Sykes raised $750,000 for his secretary of state run, including putting $150,000 of his own money in the race.

“The voters of northern Wake and Granville Counties deserve the opportunity to be represented by someone who aligns with their views, and the voters should make that choice,” Sykes told CJ. “It seems like the left will do whatever it takes to maximize their chances to win, including attempting to claim every seat in every urban county.”

Republican Mark Cavaliero announced that he will run for N.C. Senate for District 17. Photo from markcavaliero.com

“With the massive growth in Wake County and the clear strength of Republicans in the suburbs, it seems right that there would be one or two competitive state Senate races in our county,” said Mark Cavaliero, GOP candidate in Democrat-leaning state Senate 17.

“For example, most of the southern Wake district I’m running in was won last fall by Rep. Erin Paré in the old N.C. House 37, and two months ago Republicans won every seat they ran in across southern Wake County, winning the mayoral races in Fuquay-Varina and Holly Springs and four other town races. The Wake suburbs are simply not Democrat strongholds, and the new districts should reflect that… These are very competitive areas!” he continued.

Across North Carolina, urban GOP candidates and voters are on the hit list of redistricting plaintiffs.

They argue to the court that Democrats are entitled to all three state House seats in Buncombe County, and that it was unconstitutional for the GOP-controlled General Assembly to draw two strong Democrat seats and one competitive swing seat. They argue that both of Pitt County’s two state House seats must be drawn to elect Democrats, even if it means splitting the city of Greenville in half.

The plaintiffs argue against new House seats in Guilford and Cumberland counties, even though they are nearly identical to districts drawn by the courts previously.

Former Wake County Republican Party Chairman Charles Hellwig says liberal Democrat allies are asking the court to correct for the Democrats math and geography problems at the expense of urban GOP voters.

“The hypocrisy of the left knows no limits,” Hellwig said. “Wake County may be dominated by liberal voters, but they are not all that make up our great county, and they should not get districts gerrymandered by the left-leaning court to give them every seat. We have many parts of Wake that are strongly conservative, and many other areas that are truly split, so it only makes sense to have a couple of GOP-leaning seats in both the House and the Senate, and a few competitive seats in other suburban areas. With 13 House seats and 5.5 Senate seats in the largest county in North Carolina, do they really think the GOP should have no chance to win any of them? Maybe Raleigh is totally blue, but Wake isn’t.”

Meanwhile candidates like Mulligan, Sykes, and Cavaliero soldier on, wondering if their biggest opponent will be on the ballot, or in a robe.