“Stop twisting our words.”
That’s one of the messages that several North Carolinians delivered to Republican legislators at a trio of hastily called public hearings last week, as the General Assembly prepared yet again to adopt new maps for North Carolina’s legislative and congressional districts.
That such a message was even necessary is an outrage, but the witnesses had good reason to voice it.
The last time the GOP majority drew maps — just two years ago — that’s precisely what they did. On multiple occasions, lawmakers cynically took excerpts from the testimony delivered by residents who blasted partisan gerrymandering, and then used them to justify maps that did precisely that.
A recent commentary written by Elizabeth City resident Keisha Dobie for NC Newsline lists some of the remarkable details.
That North Carolina is in the midst of another redistricting process of any kind — just two months prior to the 12-day candidate filing period for the 2024 election — is itself a disgrace.
If political map drawing in our state was remotely fair and just, an independent and diverse panel of non-legislators would have long ago settled on a plan that would both produce dozens of closely contested districts, and fairly reflects the partisan and racial makeup of a deeply purple state.
Instead, we have nothing of the sort. Rather, a small cadre of lawmakers from the smaller of the state’s two major parties has been squirreled away behind closed doors for months. They’ve been crafting gerrymandered districts that will assure their party of large majorities in the General Assembly and U.S House delegation via an array of rigged and mostly uncontested elections.
The situation is so absurd and broken that the people behind it aren’t even trying hard to hide the gist of what they’re up to.
Think about it.
The 2023 legislative session commenced nine months ago and has featured week after week of almost complete inactivity. There has seldom if ever been a better opportunity to conduct a thorough, timely and fully public map drawing process.
But Republican leaders made it clear from Day One that they had no intention of pursuing such a course. Instead, they let it be known that they would delay redistricting until after the session was almost over. Then they would rush something through so there would be no real sunlight and little time for would-be candidates not privy to inside information (i.e., Democrats) to plan their campaigns or even know the districts in which they live.
They then further cemented the scheme by enacting late session legislation that keeps the records of their behind-the-scenes machinations secret and empowers their dependable right-wing judicial rubber stamp (Supreme Court Chief Justice Paul Newby) to have full control over the judges who would hear any state court challenges to their handwork.
Meanwhile, most of the state’s numb and pliant political insiders — including lawmakers of both parties, commentators, lobbyists, and its weary and beleaguered news media — have repeatedly reported and referred to this cynical and manipulative plan as if it were just, sigh… normal or nothing special.
But in the weird and dysfunctional Legislative Building of 2023, they’re not far off.
Happily, this crazy situation didn’t dissuade several courageous and dedicated residents from traveling long distances on short notice to bear witness to the charade and speak truth to power. Lawmakers only deigned to allot each of them 120 seconds to say their piece at the three hearings that took place in rapid-fire succession last week, but as NC Newsline journalists Lynn Bonner and Clayton Henkel reported here and here, several made the most of the opportunity.
- 87-year-old John Suddath of Raleigh, who said “I can’t recall a time when I felt that the right to vote, and that each vote counts, was in such jeopardy,”
- Karen Alexander of Johnston County, who, as the descendant of enslaved people, explained her passion for the principles of democracy and the pain of trying to explain to her 7-year-old grandson about how and why white people (like the lawmakers drawing the maps) are mean to Black people, and
- Eric Willoughby, a 17-year-old from Huntersville, drove two-and-a-half hours to speak out against maps that were being crafted out of the public’s views to further cement the majority party’s control on policy.
As inspiring as these and many other witnesses were, however, there is no doubt as to what will happen in the days ahead. Having gone through the motions of holding public hearings, Republican lawmakers will now ignore or twist critics’ testimony and proceed to draw gerrymandered maps that guarantee themselves large legislative and U.S. House majorities, while blithely denying anything other than the most virtuous of intentions.
At the end his testimony — the YouTube video has been shared more than 15,000 times — young Eric Willoughby put it this way: “I urge you now. Watch your step. Be very careful in what you choose to do because young people like me are watching and young people like me are fed up.”
For the good of our democracy, let’s hope they’re far from the only ones.
NC Newsline Editor Rob Schofield oversees day-to-day newsroom operations, authors regular commentaries, and hosts a weekly radio show/podcast. Republished from ncnewsline.com.