Not long after the 2010 election the leaders of the new Republican majorities backed away from their long-standing support of an independent redistricting commission, saying there wasn’t time for a commission to draw the new lines for Congress and the General Assembly in 2011.
They said the same thing after the session began in January, that they still supported a commission but not this year as they wanted to get a version of the new district maps done by April or May and have them approved by the first June.
But with the release of the maps this month, almost six months after the General Assembly convened, we now know why—and time had nothing to do with it.
The Republicans had no real interest in an independent commission this year because they wanted to gerrymander the lines to eliminate key Democrats and try to consolidate their own power for the next ten years.
There’s no other way to look at the maps. They are the purest form of raw partisan politics. Even a quick glance at the maps shows that gaining partisan advantage was not only a consideration, it was the driving force.
That’s the only way to explain why small towns are split in half in the new legislative districts and urban areas are sliced up to form parts of three or even four new congressional districts.
Some voters in Wake County will share a district with folks in Surry County. It is hard to think of two counties more different. The town of Hickory is part of three districts.
Key Democratic legislators like House Minority Leader Joe Hackney and House Minority Whip Rick Glazier are among several Democrats that are put in districts with other Democratic incumbents.
The plans pack African-American voters to increase the number of safe Republican seats and diminish the influence of African-Americans across the state. Republicans cynically defend that practice by pointing to the Voting Rights Act, a law Republicans have long criticized and some have fought to repeal.
No independent commission would ever draw maps that look anything like the ones the Republicans are now proposing. They are literally choosing their voters to stay in power and that is exactly what they promised not to do.
The General Assembly districts all but guarantee Republican majorities even in years when the cumulative statewide vote in legislative races heavily favors Democrats.
Almost as offensive as the re-segregated gerrymandered districts themselves is the virtual silence from pundits and think tanks on the right.
The conservative groups were happy in the past to join with progressive organizations and complain about the gerrymandering that Democrats proposed when they were in control of the House and Senate.
But now that it is the Republicans abusing the redistricting process for political gain, all seems quiet on the right-wing front. Apparently good government practices are only important when Democrats are in power.
Republicans get a pass—just like they did earlier this year when they cut off debate, stuffed the budget with policy provisions and held unannounced meetings, all practices the right and left condemned when the Democrats were doing them.
The Republicans only defense of their outrageous plans is first to claim that they are fair and legal, which no one in Raleigh believes, and then to remind people that the Democrats did it too.
The new districts have a long way to go even after their almost certain passage later this month. The U.S. Justice Department has to pre-clear the plans under the Voting Rights Act and then the battle moves to the courts.
Much this could have been avoided if Republicans had kept their word and taken the politics out of drawing the district lines. And there was plenty of time. There was simply no will to do the right thing.
Power was far more important than keeping a promise.