North Carolina’s history of drawing congressional and legislative districts is challenging to defend for both political parties. Political opportunism and warfare come with the “big pen” when drawing these critical maps, and there is always outrage for those not at the table.
Look no further than when Former Republican Co-Speaker of the House Richard Morgan waged war on his enemies when he and Democrat Co-Speaker Jim Black were in power. Richard Morgan partnered with Jim Black to punish his enemies by drawing them into districts with other Republican representatives. Under these maps, Speakers Morgan and Black punished Johnston County Republicans Leo Daughtry and Billy Creech by drawing the district nearly around Daughtry’s Smithfield home for the controversial caucus leadership vote. At the same time, there were three other cases of the double-bunking strategy by placing incumbents in the same districts. They include Republican juggernauts such as Robert Pittenger, Bob Rucho, and Virginia Foxx.
Fast forward a few years to when Republicans won supermajorities in both the NC House and Senate, these congressional and state legislative maps had to be redrawn multiple times due to the loss of state and federal court battles. Both sides have taken advantage of the “big pen” by double-bunking incumbents and targeting voting blocs by placing too many specific blocs into districts.
Looking to the past to learn from the mistakes of previous leaders and court battles; Leaders in both parties can be proud of themselves for the way the process succeeded in the 2019 legislative redraw. This groundbreaking model allowed public comment about suggested maps in committee and was drawn in the light of day for all to see. That means that it took out the backroom deals and drawing of political maps in the basement for only a few to know until it was time to vote.
It prevents what Speakers Morgan and Black did to Representatives Leo Daughtry and Billy Creech in 2003. Representative Daughtry stated at the time, “The whole process was done in bad faith. There was no debate. There was no time to look at the maps”. Well, the times have changed since then.
In a joint statement about the process in 2019, Senate Democratic Leader Dan Blue and Republican Committee Chairs Paul Newton, Warren Daniel, and Ralph Hise said, “This is the most transparent redistricting process in history. The maps produced in this room in the last several days are fair and nonpartisan. We approve of them and urge the full Senate to do the same.”
These are staggeringly different messages about the process from both sides of the political aisle. I believe that North Carolina legislative leaders who worked together on the most transparent process in the history of North Carolina in 2019 can be the model for the rest of the country. How many issues can you say that Republicans and Democrats can agree upon in the last five years?
Some lawmakers, on the other hand, have called for independent redistricting commissions throughout the years. The most recent is Senator Jeff Jackson (D-Mecklenburg), who is seeking the Democratic nomination for U.S. Senate. He states, “It’s pretty clear how to solve this problem at this point.”
Sen. Jackson’s proposal is a solution searching for a problem. His caucus leader said the process used in 2019 was “the most transparent redistricting process in history.” We have the model that works. He also stated that it is “indefensible to allow the rigging of elections.” What is he talking about? What was rigged in North Carolina’s 2020 elections? Is he spreading North Carolina’s version of “the big lie”?
We do not need more posturing and grandstanding. Now is a time for leadership. By placing your hopes in a commission made up of unelected and unaccountable bureaucrats, you are abdicating your responsibilities as an elected official. Accountability and transparency are critical to build and maintain trust for the people you serve. That means making tough decisions and voting for what you believe is right. We do not need to place our faith and power in a group of unelected bureaucrats that are the end-all, be-all.
Moving forward, we should seek to hold our elected officials accountable for solutions to problems and not give in to those who want to politicize issues. An unelected, unaccountable commission betrays what we as a people expect from our elected leaders. The 2019 redistricting process is an example to legislative bodies across the United States that in North Carolina, we will continue to be solution-based to solve our issues. We do not “punt” tough decisions to unelected, unaccountable bureaucrats. Instead, we embrace the challenge and expect our elected leaders to perform their duties. The 2019 process is an example that it can be done. Let’s continue down that path.
Luke Stancil is a North Carolina political strategist and president of Lookout Strategies, LLC. Stancil has worked in the United States House of Representatives, Governor’s Office, North Carolina Department of Public Safety, and the Halls of the General Assembly.