Our voices should be heard everywhere: Why the courts ruled against Republicans

Our voices should be heard everywhere: Why the courts ruled against Republicans
February 18
00:00 2016

Rep. Ed Hanes

Guest Columnist

Last week a panel of Federal judges ruled that the current Republican drawn boundaries in the 12th and 1st N.C. Congressional districts are unconstitutional.  The finding concludes that Republican lawmakers concentrated black voters in two districts with the intent to dilute the political clout of black voters across the State.  It is now the time to follow the directive of the court and redraw the district lines with contiguity, compactness, and true democracy in mind.

The district in question for Winston-Salem, North Carolina’s 12th, is one of the least-compact districts in the nation.  The Justice Department used Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act to promote the creation of majority-minority districts like the 12th.  These districts were drawn to ensure that traditionally marginalized people, blacks in particular, would be guaranteed representation in Congress.  The 12th District has been majority-black since it was drawn in 1999.  We have had two representatives during this time: Democrats Mel Watt and the current Congresswoman, Dr. Alma Adams.

Our current discussion in North Carolina is a fine example of the problem with unconstitutional districts based strictly upon race.  When black voters are stacked in one district, their broader political influence is drastically diminished.  The facts on the ground are clear: black voters are heavily over-represented in the 12th District, but under-represented everywhere else across the State (except for the also litigated 1st Congressional District). Republican congressional districts have mushroomed under this plan. Candidates outside the 12th and 1st Districts are free to disregard the concerns of black voters completely. Republicans have found that they can exploit this reality to their advantage and have done so with great success.

Things are changing. We’ve now seen a handful of lawsuits from national and state Democratic par-ties to get majority-minority districts overturned. These circumstances can sometimes create tension within minority communities and between the Democrats we predominantly vote for.  Black incumbents want to ensure safe districts for re-election, while party leaders want minority voters more dispersed to increase the party’s chances of winning more races. This is an inescapable tension.

So far that hasn’t been the case in North Carolina. Democratic Legislators in Raleigh voted on Tuesday 15 to 1 to redraw the 12th District in a way that is not “serpentine” in nature and instead, promotes compact-ness and fair representation. Congresswoman Alma Adams and Congressman G.K. Butterfield have both issued even-handed statements saying they support the creation of fair and constitutional districts in line with what was requested by the courts.   Our Congresswoman Adams has taken this appropriate stance even as she finds herself in a very unfair position.  She lives in Greensboro, serves the district, and did not have input into the maps previously drawn, as did the two Congressmen who previously served Districts 1 and 12.

In considering new maps a pragmatic approach must take place.

There needs to be greater geographic balance between Charlotte and the Triad while honoring the idea of compactness. The lines should be drawn under the 2010 Census. The district needs to return to fewer than 50% African-American (as was the case when Mel Watt first won the seat).   Forsyth County should remain in a district with one Republican Congressperson (Virginia Foxx) and one Democratic Congressperson (Alma Adams).  Our city deserves the same bipartisan representation as the other major urban centers in Wake and Mecklenburg Counties. This can be accomplished quite easily by placing the western liberal precinct’s in the city into the 12th District. That would ensure bipartisan representation in Winston Salem, Charlotte, Raleigh, Durham, and Greensboro.

The questions boil down to this:  Are people in a given district similar to each other on any given demographic measure?  Is the political process free, fair and democratic?  The courts have determined that as the maps are currently drawn, the answer to those questions by way of constitutionality is no.  Minority groups have been stacked and, thereby, removed from the broader political process.  This cannot stand.

Black people are, in fact, people and should be counted in the whole!  Our lives, our voices, and our votes matter from Murphy to Manteo.  We are part of the fabric of North Carolina and have earned our right to representation through constitutionally consistent districts in every corner of this state.  We paid for that right by whip, through blood, by protest, and eventual freedom.

It is never the wrong time to do the right thing!

N.C. Rep. Ed Hanes Jr. is leader of the Forsyth County Legislative Delegation and a member of the Congressional Redistricting Select Committee.

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