The amnesia of political power

The amnesia of political power

- in Fitzsimon File

If you are looking for a place where partisanship always trumps common sense and the hypocrisy of political leaders is on full neon display, it is redistricting.

That was certainly true Tuesday, when Senate leaders brushed aside calls for redistricting reform from a group of individuals and organizations on the left and the right, the N.C. Coalition for Lobbying and Government Reform.

The Coalition held a news conference at the Legislative Building to encourage Senate leaders to consider legislation that overwhelmingly passed the House last year that would take the process of drawing lines for legislative and congressional districts out of the hands of lawmakers and turn it over to nonpartisan experts.

Lawmakers can then approve or disapprove the plan but they can’t make changes to benefit themselves or their political allies. It’s a system that is in place and working well in other states, most notably in Iowa.

The legislation would not affect any redistricting efforts until 2021 and it passed the House last session by an 88-24 vote with Speaker Thom Tillis, Minority Leader Joe Hackney, and Majority Leader Paul Stam as three of its key supporters.

That raised the hopes of the bipartisan reformers that this would finally be the year that North Carolina moved to a system of drawing district lines that would allow voters to choose their legislators instead of the other way around.

Those hopes were dimmed soon after the news conference when Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger, who himself sponsored independent redistricting bills when he was in the minority, said the reform wouldn’t pass the Senate this year.

Republican Senator Bill Rabon is also against the plan and was quoted in the Wilmington Star-News asking “Why change it now? It’s been that way forever.”

Maybe Rabon could ask Berger why he and his Republican colleagues tried for so long to change it.

It’s not complicated. They pointed out then that allowing politicians to draw districts to keep themselves in power was wrong and subversion of democracy.

Berger and his fellow Republicans were right. That’s why they were joined every year by a bipartisan group of reformers in their calls for an independent redistricting process.

Rabon and Berger also might want to check with their constituents on this one. Virtually every poll shows that vast majority of voters believe that politicians should not be drawing the districts that they run in.

The latest Carolina Issues Poll from NC Policy Watch found that voters support an independent redistricting process by almost a two to one margin.

One of the speakers at Tuesday’s news conference was UNC Law professor Gene Nichol who said that both Democrats and Republicans had abused their powers to rig the electoral process to deny voters fair and competitive elections.

Nichol also said that it is difficult for politicians to “let go once you get that taste in your mouth.”

That taste of political control seems to have amazing powers, convincing leaders like Berger to forget what he used to stand for.

Let’s hope that in the end saner heads prevail on the overdue redistricting reform, folks like maybe the 2007 or 2009 versions of the very Republicans currently serving in the General Assembly.

About the author

Chris Fitzsimon, Founder and Executive Director of N.C. Policy Watch, writes the Fitzsimon File, delivers a radio commentary broadcast on WRAL-FM and hosts "News and Views," a weekly radio news magazine that airs on multiple stations across North Carolina.