Opinion: The Woodshed

New census data, N.C. Constitution, will create a different looking state Senate

Same party lawmakers forced into districts together

The N.C. Senate, in session Monday, March 1. (CJ photo by Maya Reagan)
The N.C. Senate, in session Monday, March 1. (CJ photo by Maya Reagan)

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

In part one of CJ’s deep dive into new census data, we examined the required county “clusters” or groupings required under the North Carolina constitution’s whole county provision and how those constitutional mandates will impact North Carolina’s coming legislative redistricting.

Political boundaries for the General Assembly will be set for the next decade through this process.

In that overview piece, two of North Carolina’s most accomplished political consultants, working with independent data experts examining census numbers, predicted that Republicans would have a strong political advantage in both chambers of the General Assembly for the considerable future.  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, in the 50-seat chamber.

Democrats’ biggest political problem is geography. The Democrat’s voters simply don’t live where the party needs them to be competitive in vast areas of the state.

It is important to remember that, unlike Congress, legislative candidates must live in the district they hope to represent and must do so for one year prior to the election.

The General Assembly has adopted redistricting criteria to avoid placing lawmakers of the same party into the same districts, a process known as “double-bunking,”

Examining the new state Senate

Johnston County is growing fast and will have its own state Senator that represents only Johnston County. Currently, Johnston is represented by State Senator Lisa Barnes, R-Nash, and Sen. Brent Jackson, R-Sampson.

Neither lives in Johnston County, so this new seat will be open with no incumbent running. While losing Johnston County, Sen. Barnes will now be in a toss-up district that includes Vance, Franklin, and Nash Counties.

One of the new mandated county groupings will create a Northeast coastal district that includes: Pasquotank, Perquimans, Chowan, Washington, Dare, Hyde, Pamlico, and Carteret Counties.

This required grouping puts two senior Republican Senators in the same district, Sen. Bob Steinburg, R-Chowan, and Sen. Norm Sanderson, R-Pamlico.

Wake County will have six total state Senate districts. Five will be fully contained in Wake County. One district will be all of Granville County and part of Wake. Wake is gaining one Senate seat. Currently, Democrats control all four of the Wake seats that are fully contained inside Wake County, plus the one district that contains all of Franklin plus some of Wake.

According to consultants Jim Blaine and Ray Martin who examined the data of the new Wake Granville grouping, the grouping should generate “2 toss-up seats and 4 Dem seats.”

They add that in the future Democrats can only have a path to a state Senate majority if they win all six seats in Wake, otherwise, there is no path to a majority over the next few election cycles.

The situation is similar in Mecklenburg where Democrats currently control all five seats. The new grouping adds a seat to Mecklenburg and pairs one Mecklenburg seat with all of Iredell.  Democrats need to maximize their seats in the Mecklenburg group to have a chance for a majority. There will be one GOP seat based in Iredell County and there could be another toss-up seat.

In the mountains of N.C., a new large, required grouping of Cherokee, Clay, Graham, Swain, Macon, Jackson, Transylvania, Haywood, Madison, Yancey, Mitchell, Avery, Caldwell, Catawba, Watauga, Ashe, and Alleghany counties will result in a loss of one current Republican senator.

This group will produce three GOP districts but is currently home to four GOP senators, so there will be one double-bunking. It is likely that Sen. Ralph Hise, R-Mitchell, and Sen. Deanna Ballard, R-Watauga, will be forced into the same district.

GOP stronghold Moore County will no longer be paired with Richmond, Anson, and Scotland County in a district currently represented by Sen. Tom McIinnis , R-Richmond.

In a move that will please Moore County GOP activists, Moore is now paired with Cumberland and is likely to have its own GOP state senator that also represents a small portion of Cumberland. Cumberland is currently paired with Hoke and has two Democrat senators, Kirk deViere , D-Cumberland, and Ben Clark, D-Hoke.

Carolina Journal has reported extensively on questions that surround Sen. Ben Clark’s residency.

If Clark continues to claim Hoke as his residency he will be in a swing district that includes Hoke, Robeson, and Scotland likely facing state Senator Danny Britt, R-Robeson, in a district considered a toss-up, but one that voted for Trump over Biden 53.5% to 45.5%.

Should Clark begin claiming his residency is in Cumberland County, where some claim he has lived all along, he would either be in the GOP leaning Moore/Cumberland seat or in the same Cumberland County district as fellow Democrat deViere. Considering that Clark has had a safe Democrat seat in the past, Clark’s political future could likely be more difficult regardless of new map boundaries.

A new grouping of Cabarrus, Union, Anson, Richmond, Montgomery, Randolph, and Alamance will place five Incumbent GOP senators into four districts.

Two of those districts will be anchored by most of Union currently represented by Sen. Todd Johnston, R-Union, and most of Cabarrus represented currently by Sen. Paul Newton, R-Cabarrus, along with the district that is primarily made up of Alamance County currently represented by freshman Sen. Amy Gailey, R-Alamance.

The whole county provision would likely then require all of Richmond, Montgomery and Anson together with part of Randolph be in one district and the other part Randolph combined with Alamance. This could force freshman senators Amy Gailey, R-Alamance, Dave Craven, R-Randolph, into the same district, or it would force Sen. Craven into the other district with Sen. Tom McInnis.  Small parts of Cabarrus and Union, which are too big to fit into single county districts, will also have to be absorbed into the remaining districts in this grouping.

In part 3, we take a similar look at the state House.