The leaves are turning across North Carolina, altering our landscapes into kaleidoscopes of vibrant colors. It’s a wonderful time, enjoyed annually, and it is beautiful to watch.
Unfortunately, North Carolina now has another annual tradition: redistricting.
The resetting of political boundaries to adjust for population changes should happen only once a decade. However, North Carolina redistricting is almost becoming an annual rite of passage.
As the map-making crayons come out, here is where we stand with redistricting and beyond.
As noted by John Hood, “Now that the North Carolina General Assembly has finally passed a state budget for the 2023-25 biennium — and Gov. Roy Cooper has decided not to veto it, allowing it to become law without his signature — conservatives have a great deal to celebrate. The bill achieves major victories for fiscal restraint, tax and regulatory relief, and education reform, among other important causes.”
Hood, others at the John Locke Foundation, and scores of voices on the left have criticized the long-drawn-out session and attempts to legalize casino gambling to non-tribal lands through the budget process, an attempt that was dropped.
However, the latest John Locke Civitas poll shows voters giving Republican legislators high marks compared to their Democrat counterparts.
Republicans lead Democrats 47% to 42% when North Carolina respondents were asked how they would vote in state legislative races in 2024.
The poll has President Biden more than 20 points underwater, with only 35% of NC voters approving of the job Biden is doing. A recent Meredith College poll was similar, with Biden 17 points underwater.
Recent public polls show various Republican candidates beating President Biden by three or more points. Put simply, Biden is not doing himself or his fellow Democrats any favors in NC.
Five public polls this year show Lt. Governor Mark Robinson leading Attorney General Josh Stein in the race for Governor.
North Carolina will be closely contested in 2024. However, as we move into redistricting and the last quarter of 2023, Republicans have a measurable, however slight, edge.
Democrats and left-leaning interest groups are already seething over the upcoming redistricting special session. They are angry that they no longer have a heavily partisan Democrat court to invent provisions in the state constitution against political considerations in map drawing, leaving the Democrats few options to block GOP-created maps.
Redistricting will occur mostly as it has since North Carolina’s founding, with the majority party developing maps and the opposition party objecting. There are reasonable arguments for a different process, but North Carolina Republicans are not breaking new ground here. They must draw districts of roughly equal population that are also congruent and compact. The legislative districts must follow the state constitution’s whole county provision, a key safeguard against gerrymandering.
Expect the Republican legislature to attempt to turn the 14-seat congressional map — currently split with seven Democrats and seven Republicans — to, at worst, a 10-4 map for the GOP. Democrats Kathy Manning (Guilford), Jeff Jackson (Mecklenburg), and Wiley Nickel (Wake) are all expected to see their districts reconfigured to GOP-leaning seats. It appears Jeff Jackson is planning to run for Attorney General if this happens.
Less clear is what happens to the Democratic-leaning northeast seat held by Democrat Don Davis. A new racial gerrymandering decision of the US Supreme Court might make it harder to target Davis.
In a pretty good GOP year, Davis defeated Republican Sandy Smith 52% to 47%. This district will be tough to capture for the GOP in 2024 anyway, and the legislature might leave it — hoping to avoid a fight in federal court — and hope the district grows more GOP-friendly in the coming years.
While Democrats will scream, the legislative districts will not change drastically. The legislature captured large majorities in both chambers under maps heavily influenced by a Democrat-majority state Supreme Court. To make any real gains in legislative seats. Republicans would have to find a way to make a few seats competitive in the state’s major urban areas of Wake, Guilford, and/or Mecklenburg if this is even possible.