Not this year is not the refrain we wanted to hear about an independent, nonpartisan N.C. redistricting panel that both Democrats and Republicans have acknowledged at one time or another is needed. But it looks like N.C. lawmakers will walk away this short session from a prime opportunity to ditch the states nakedly partisan redistricting process.
Despite a bipartisan push by advocates and House lawmakers, Senate leader Phil Berger gave a thumbs down to the idea, even though House members passed legislation last year. The House bill lets legislative staff members, not elected legislators, draw the boundaries of congressional and legislative districts for the next remap in 2021. The plan is based on an Iowa model that has worked well so far for that state.
Its a bit ironic that Berger is standing in the way of such legislation. When Republicans were in the minority in the legislature, he sponsored redistricting reform bills. This year, with the Republicans in the majority, hes not so keen on the idea.
The Senate leader blamed his reluctance on the fact that lawmakers just finished redistricting last year, and the maps are being addressed in ongoing litigation.
But nothing would happen with actual redistricting for another decade. And when Republicans proposed reforms as the states minority party in the legislature, the state was also involved in litigation over redistricting maps.
In fact, thats the problem with North Carolinas redistricting process. It has continually landed the state in court in costly litigation.
UNC Law professor Gene Nichol, who joined with former N.C. GOP chairman Bill Cobey on Tuesday to press for consideration of the House bill, said North Carolina has become the poster child for partisan redistricting in the eyes of the courts, which have intervened more than 20 times in the past 30 years. For the U.S. Supreme Court, he said, the 1990s were the North Carolina decade.
Nichol pointed out, as this editorial board has, that both parties have abused their power in drawing maps.
Cobey chimed that his involvement in Stevenson v. Bartlett, one of North Carolinas best-known redistricting lawsuits and one that ended up in the Supreme Court underscored his push for change. This process was highly partisan and frankly totally unnecessary. There has got to be a better way, he said.
There is. It is House Bill 824. It is a redistricting plan that has bipartisan support and puts voters interests before politicians. It should not be left to lanquish any longer in the Senate Rules committee. It should be passed this summer.