End partisan redistricting

Nov. 26, 2013 @ 05:34 PM
In an era of rancorous partisanship in Raleigh, two high-profile politicians had an affable and intriguing exchange this week.
In an interview with WRAL-TV anchor David Crabtree, former governors Jim Hunt, a Democrat, and Jim Martin, a Republican, agreed we need a different method of drawing our congressional and legislative districts.
The brief discussion of districts came in the course of a lengthy joint interview in which the two agreed on several things -- and when they disagreed, they did it with a cordial respect for each other’s position, a reminder that such discourse is indeed possible.  
Martin initiated the redistricting discussion when Crabtree asked if there was a chance to bring more bipartisanship to the legislature.
Yes, the second Republican governor in this state since reconstruction, said, “but it’s going to take a while. The problem we have is the way legislative and congressional districts are drawn tends to polarize a district toward the far left or the far right.”
Martin called for a legislative-appointed panel that would draw district lines and submit the package to the legislature for an up-or-down vote.
Hunt quickly rejoined, “I want to endorse that.”
So do we.
Many of our congressional and legislative districts are gerrymandered to concentrate Democratic voters in some districts to increase Republican opportunities in adjoining districts. That’s why the retiring U. S. Rep. Howard Coble, who this year began to represent parts of Durham County, has constituents as far north and west of us as Surry County.
Democrats during their years controlling the legislature practiced similar district manipulation.
Leaders in both parties have supported a less partisan redistricting process in the past – generally, when their party is out of power.  But there have been signs that some legislative leaders on both sides of the aisle may now be willing to consider the approach.
A nonpartisan panel could assure the constitutionally required population equity among districts while looking at geographic and civic affinity, not voter registration statistics.  Under that approach, Durham would be unlikely to be embedded as it is now in four different congressional districts.  The famed “I-85” district carved by Democrats some years ago to maximize black voter registration for Charlotte congressman Mel Watt would be equally unlikely.
And districts thus drawn would be far less subject to the almost reflexive and expensive court challenges that most recent redistrictings, including the current one, have drawn.
It seems so simple and logical. But politics is a blood sport, and each party is predictably focused on retaining the upper hand when it has it.
Still, living by the sword means dying by it, and today’s successes in locking in power for the short term will give way to revenge.
Jim Hunt and Jim Martin have thoughtful, principled differences over many aspects of how to govern this state.
But their agreement on redistricting ought to show the way for this General Assembly to take the bold step of taking the task of drawing legislative districts out of bare-knuckled politics.