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NC GOP leaders attempt to gerrymander the truth

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Fast-talking political operative Dallas Woodhouse (File photo by Melissa Boughton)

If there is a Forrest Gump of the modern North Carolina political right, it would have to be Dallas Woodhouse. No, Woodhouse isn’t a slow-talking simpleton with a big heart. To the contrary, he’s a skilled, colorful and fast-talking political operative with lots of experience in messaging, P.R. and driving the news.

Like Gump, however, Woodhouse has a knack for turning up in a variety of different guises to be in and around big political stories. Frequently, if not always intentionally, Woodhouse reveals important truths about them.

A one-time TV news reporter who has taken on numerous roles over the last few decades [2] in support of hard-right causes – running advocacy groups, campaigns, private consulting firms and even the state Republican Party itself – Woodhouse is a survivor who periodically runs into trouble, but always seems to bounce back with a new gig.

On the night of Sen. Thom Tillis’s first U.S. Senate win in 2014, Woodhouse infamously gave a rather embarrassing celebratory television interview [3] in which he admitted that the 501(c)(4) nonprofit he was running – a group called Carolina Rising – had spent $4.7 million specifically in support of that legally questionable electoral purpose [4].

More recently, while serving as executive director of the state GOP, Woodhouse found himself telling truths as a grand jury witness [5] in an investigation probing the illegal political contributions of an insurance industry magnate named Greg Lindberg. Those contributions ultimately led to the criminal conviction of Woodhouse’s boss – Republican Party chairman and former congressman Robin Hayes.

Woodhouse’s latest bout of what appears to be an exercise in unplanned and inadvertent truth-telling about Republican political maneuvering took place when, in his new and latest role as a “reporter” for the conservative Carolina Journal, he wrote a story [6] describing the plans of Republican legislative leaders to gerrymander the state’s congressional map in the upcoming round of redistricting.

The story came out right after new census data were released indicating that North Carolina would gain a 14th congressional district and read in part:

Carolina Journal has learned that GOP redistricting leaders will consider approving a new map designed to elect a 10 Republicans and four Democrats beginning in 2022.”

Woodhouse went on to report that one of the new districts would be drawn specifically for House Speaker Tim Moore.

Not surprisingly, the story did not go over well with GOP legislative leaders, who quickly denied its accuracy. Soon after publication, as Raleigh’s News & Observer reported [7], Carolina Journal “softened” the story in an apparent response to the GOP backlash.

Woodhouse also tried to cover his tracks by telling the N&O that he had “never used the word gerrymander” in the story and did not believe that was what the GOP had in mind.

None of which even comes close to passing the laugh test.

First of all, one doesn’t have to use the word “gerrymander” for anyone paying attention to understand what a map rigged to produce a 10-4 GOP majority in a deeply purple 50/50 state would be. As the old lawyering term goes, “res ipsa loquitur” (the thing speaks for itself).

Second, the notion that Woodhouse – a seasoned politics pro if there ever was one – simply misunderstood (or inaccurately reported) what he was obviously told by one or more people within the GOP with enough insider knowledge for him to adjudge it newsworthy strains credulity. The man has known everyone with the state Republican establishment for years and obviously understands the difference between a real story and idle gossip.

Sadly, what really appears to be going on in this situation is a case of what might properly be described as a “double gerrymander.”

As the N&O story pointed out, the word “gerrymander” means to “manipulate the boundaries of (an electoral constituency) so as to favor one party or class.”

In this case, first gerrymander was the planned manipulation of electoral boundaries to favor the GOP. The second, one might say, was the attempted manipulation of the boundaries of the story for the same ultimate and dishonest purpose – a manipulation with which Woodhouse, unfortunately, seems to have gone along.

Of course, given the record of Republican legislative leaders this past decade, such a manipulation for partisan purposes come as no surprise.

This was, after all, a group that came to power in 2011 touting promises of: 1) a new birth of transparency and open debate at the General Assembly, 2) a commitment to “local control” and an end to burdensome “mandates” from Raleigh, and 3) a new era of robust economic growth that would benefit all income groups – promises that were all ultimately dashed upon the rocks of countless decisions to shut off legislative debate, micromanage local governments and promote disastrous trickledown tax and spending policies.

So, will the new attempted double gerrymander succeed? Maybe. As Donald Trump proved repeatedly, North Carolinians can be a gullible group.

In the end, one can only hope that, if not Woodhouse, another would be Forrest Gump comes forward – either intentionally or inadvertently – to speak the truth.