RALEIGH — All but one of the 29 speakers at Friday’s public hearing of a joint legislative redistricting committee encouraged and admonished Republican lawmakers to dramatically alter the way North Carolina’s electoral districts are drawn. They used quotes from the Bible, state constitution, and Pledge of Allegiance to get their points across.
Some even called for redistricting committee chairman Rep. David Lewis, R-Harnett, and Sen. Ralph Hise, R-Mitchell, to recuse themselves from committee work.
Lawmakers are under a federal court order to redraw 28 legislative districts a three-judge panel determined were unconstitutionally created using race-based gerrymandering. Friday’s meeting was part of the process to collect recommendations for criteria to be used in the new maps.
Nearly all of the speakers during the public hearing session were from Wake and Orange counties. They urged lawmakers to have an open and transparent process.
Their insistence that much more, not less, public involvement be included contradicted the comments of the judicial panel July 27 in U.S. District Court in Greensboro. The judges questioned the need for more time to hold statewide public hearings.
The judges ordered new maps by the end of the month, rather than granting Republicans’ request for a November deadline that would allow for broad public input and more time for voters and other interested parties to submit their own maps for consideration.
Louise Kinnard of Lillington said Republicans should resist the temptation to draw partisan gerrymanders in response to similar past practices of Democrats. Her suggestions included sharing new maps with the public as soon as they’re drawn, and holding town hall meetings to gather input.
“I am confident that those maps have already been drawn,” and the criteria established without any public input, said Jen Jones of Hillsborough, who works for Democracy North Carolina.
Rep. Mickey Michaux, D-Durham, later pressed Lewis on that issue.
“Can you assure this body right now that no redistricting map has yet been drawn?” he asked. “People are concerned. They think you’ve already drawn the maps.”
Lewis said no maps were drawn at his direction, and the only map he knows has been prepared was submitted by an independent organization.
The committee will gather recommendations until it meets next Thursday, review them, and adopt rules jointly for both chambers. House and Senate maps would be redrawn after that, and public input taken on Aug. 22 or 23.
While two speakers acknowledged that Hise and Lewis offered a more transparent process than was followed in past redistricting, only Dallas Woodhouse, executive director of the North Carolina Republican Party, spoke for what he called traditional and legal redistricting principles.
Woodhouse said the party supports keeping counties as whole as possible when drawing district lines, and not using racial considerations. But he said that is difficult as long as a judicial “Goldilocks Standard” is in place, in which mapmakers struggle to know how much race is too much, too little, or just right in the minds of judges.
The General Assembly shouldn’t be forced to draw maps helping Democrats be more competitive, Woodhouse said. He noted that 76 of North Carolina’s 100 counties supported Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump in the 2016 election, so Democrats cannot blame gerrymandered legislative districts for not offering qualified candidates or advancing popular messages.
The solution many speakers urged was adopting an independent, nonpartisan redistricting mechanism and using nonpartisan criteria for map drawing.