Cover Story: Politics in black and white?

CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - The racial side of Congressional redistricting.  North Carolina lawmakers are about to make changes to the voting map.

A top Republican suggests the GOP will redraw the boundaries and protect themselves by corralling the competition.

In politics, race is a four-letter word.  Nobody likes it admit that skin color plays a big role in this political tug of war.  Until now.

Talking about redistricting - Republican U.S. Congressman Patrick McHenry just told quote: "It's politically probable that there will be a new minority influenced district.  Republicans should pick up three seats under any fair and legal map."

Just as they do every 10 years, the General Assembly is twisting and tweaking the state's voting boundaries.  But for the first time since reconstruction, the GOP is in charge.

What McHenry is suggesting is that Republicans will unseat incumbent Democrats by concentrating black voters into a new majority-minority district.

A lot of people may not realize but federal law requires map makers draw districts where minorities can elect someone of their own ethnic background giving them equal representation.

North Carolina has two congressional districts like that now.

What Rep. McHenry is saying that Republicans want to create a third so-called majority-minority district but the way he's saying it is uncovering a dirty little secret about the process.

Whoever is in power (this time it's the GOP) gets to draw the congressional and legislative district lines and they stay that way for the next ten years until the next Census.

Why would Republicans want to create a third Congressional district where a minority Democrat might get elected to office?

Simple, if you can pack your opponents into one district that means the adjacent district is going to have more of your voters making it more likely your party will be elected there.

Democrats have done it for years to their favor, now it's Republicans turn.

But what's shaken the political establishment is that Cherryville Republican Patrick McHenry would be so bold to say the GOP is going to use racial demographics to corral Democrats.

"It's hardly any surprise other than the fact that McHenry went ahead and said it," said Charlotte Observer editor Jack Betts, who's written on North Carolina redistricting for years.

Experts say it's a strategy the GOP has used in the south for years - in Georgia, South Carolina, Alabama and Mississippi.

"It gives you a few black Democrats and lots of Republicans," said Dr. Eric Heberlig of UNC Charlotte.

"This kind of flicks away the scab on the wound and tells the public we're going to use politics," said Betts.

Which surprised many people, redistricting is always political, it's usually not said so blatantly.

Political science professor Eric Heberlig says while remapping political districts to favor Republicans may be good politics it could backfire - it has in other places before.

"You spread yourself too thin you risk the multiple districts flip to the other party when you have one-sided years like 2006 was and a lot of Republicans lost in districts that they had drawn because Democrats had a lot of support in those years," he said.

For their part, Republicans in charge of the process say this is not about race.  Says Senate Redistricting Committee chairman Bob Rucho,  "This is about drawing the maps with the direction of the law and that is the Voting Rights Act. This is legal. This isn't racial."

Rucho says it doesn't behoove the GOP to blatantly remap the districts to favor Republicans.  He says it would never pass muster with state and federal courts.

Additionally, North Carolina is one of a number of states which must have its district boundaries reviewed by the U.S. Justice Department.

A lot of national case law has been made in cases involving North Carolina in the last 25 years.   State lawmakers hope to have maps drawn by the middle of next month.

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