Tuesday, 10 December 2019 15:53

COLUMN: Gerrymandering and the 17th Amendment

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Now that the Congressional districts have been settled we know one thing for almost certain: all of the races will be decided in March. Short of a tectonic shift in our politics, Republicans will hold eight seats and Democrats five. The makeup of our Congressional delegation has been decided by the people who draw the districts, not the voters. It’s a shame. 

Gerrymandering has provided a sort of back-to-the-future scenario with a twist. For the first 130 years of the Republic, our U.S. Senators were appointed by state legislatures. Not until 1913 did the 17th Amendment to the Constitution mandate their election by popular vote. With the power of modern GIS tools, powerful databases and the redistricting pen, legislatures have once again usurped the power of the popular vote to control the make up of one House of Congress. If we hope to give that power back to the people, we might need another amendment to the constitution.

In North Carolina, the Republicans gave their party eight districts where double digit margins decided the presidential race in every district but one, the 8th Congressional District. They gave Democrats five districts where the Democrats carried the districts by at least 15 points. They could have easily made three to five districts somewhat competitive to reflect the nature of the state.

So what will likely happen in March? Republican incumbents will almost certainly get re-elected in the 3rd, 5th, 7th, 8th, 9th, 10th and 11th. Rep. Mark Walker, who has been drawn into an unwinnable district, may challenge Rep. Ted Budd in the 13th. I’d put my money on Walker in that race. 

On the Democratic side, incumbents will almost certainly be re-elected in the 1st, 4th and 12th districts. In the new 6th District, I suspect Kathy Manning will win the primary against any comers. She starts with the resources to go from 0 to 60 overnight and has strong name recognition because of her 2018 run against Ted Budd. In the 2nd District, Deborah Ross shoots to frontrunner status against candidates who have been toiling for months. She has the network to quickly put together the funds to run and starts with name recognition that will dwarf anyone else. 

In November, the nominees will have mainly token opposition. The general election could be competitive but it will take something changing the dynamic significantly, something that does happen occasionally. Scandals can bring down otherwise safe candidates. Certain candidates can create movements against an incumbent. Those circumstances are rare. The Republicans in the legislature will more likely get their desired result.

I always find it so ironic that Republicans lecture us about the power of competition but shun it when it comes to political campaigns. Competition will improve our schools! Competition will make our prison system more efficient! But competition in political campaigns? Why, don’t be ridiculous. We might lose!

Thomas Mills is the founder and publisher of PoliticsNC.com. Before beginning PoliticsNC, Thomas spent twenty years as a political and public affairs consultant.