Cover Story: Drawing lines for Congress

By Jeff Atkinson - bio l email

CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - North Carolina Republicans take their newly drawn congressional maps to the people.  In this political tug of war, some say it looks like a big victory for a GOP.

They may have just muscled some Democrats right out of office.

Redistricting happens every ten years.

The party in charge of the General Assembly draws the maps. This time, it's the GOP.

On Thursday there was a statewide public hearing on the new boundaries.

Rep. Larry Kissell, a Democrat who narrowly kept his eighth district seat in Congress last November, could face a district with more registered Republican voters.

How are the Dems taking this news?  Not without a fight.  We're hearing words like abomination, unprecedented, and unconscionable used to describe these maps.

Others are saying they're fair and legal and that the districts are finally competitive.

One thing is clear with redistricting, it's very much in the eye of the beholder.

It's the first chance voters got to comment since the maps came out last Friday.

Linked via videoconference to nine sites from the mountains to the coast lawmakers who drew the new maps for the congressional districts got to hear from voters.

And they got an earful.. good and bad.

"These are the most partisan.. we feel like these maps violate the Voting Rights Act," said Tom Chumley of Charlotte.

"As a citizen I'm encouraged to finally see competitive congressional districts," said Rob Bryan of Charlotte.

Inside the UNC Charlotte Library more than two dozen attended.  The local gathering moderated by two members of the joint redistricting committee House Republican Ruth Samuelson and Democrat Senator Malcolm Graham.

"We're hear today to hear from you. We're not here to answer questions. Listen and learn from your comments and your ideas," said NC Senator Bob Rucho, committee co-chair.

Mess with peoples' representatives, who will represent them in Congress, and you're going to get some people mad.  And that's happening here.

Two examples.  In the new maps, Asheville gets pulled out of the 11th and becomes part of Republican Patrick McHenry's 10th District.

And in the east, Cumberland county would be reconfigured so thoroughly that it appears everyone in the county would have a new congressperson.

Republicans are being criticized for pushing minority voters into "safe" Democratic districts to make surrounding areas as friendly as possible.

Rep. Mel Watt, one of two black Congressmen from North Carolina went so far to call it a "sinister Republican effort to use African Americans as pawns in their effort to gain partisan, political gains in Congress."

Damon Circosta, the executive director of the North Carolina Center for Voter Education a Raleigh-based non-profit and non-partisan group says, "There's certainly evidence of partisan gerrymandering. And whether or not they use the African American districts to further that cause I think is still a little bit fuzzy. End of the day though as long as you have the politicians drawing the maps they're going to benefit the politicians who draw the maps."

Four Democratic incumbents, Rep. Larry Kissell being one of them, in the new configuration if it's adopted will have to run in a more competitive district with more Republicans than there are currently.

Democrats drew the lines last time benefiting them last time, ten years ago.

After Thursday's meetings lawmakers could make changes to the drafts or not.

The full General Assembly will be debating the maps when they go back into session at the end of this month.

More than likely it's going to end up in court anyway, as it has in the past.  North Carolina's voting districts have seen more litigation than almost any other state in the U.S.

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