Last year an attempt was made to district the City of Asheville with maps imposed on the city by Raleigh. I offered an amendment to that districting bill to require that an independent commission draw the districts, but my efforts were rebuffed by the bill sponsor. When my amendment failed on the floor in a party-line vote, I fought alongside Rep. Fisher and Rep. Ager against the Raleigh-drawn districts and because of a combination of factors, expertly recounted here, the bill was defeated.
This year similar legislation, S285, was introduced to impose districts on the City of Asheville. Once again I fought for an independent commission, and this time the bill sponsor, Sen. Edwards, agreed to support my amendment if I would in turn support the bill. I agreed, and we were successful when my colleagues in the House voted overwhelmingly (102 - 12) for the creation of an independent commission to draw districts in the City of Asheville.
Unfortunately, before the bill could reach its final vote, the leadership in the majority party realized that inclusion of the independent districting commission could undermine their position on current and future litigation on the issue of congressional and legislative districts - which have already been held unconstitutional and ordered redrawn.
They stalled the bill for two days while they worked with their lawyers to try to salvage their position. In the end, they offered an amendment that didn’t strip the independent commission from the bill, but did make its use optional by the City Council.
Gerrymandering has been used by both political parties to hold onto power for years. It’s a dire threat to our electoral system, and it has led to increased polarization and gridlock. During my time in Raleigh I have proudly cosponsored numerous bills to end gerrymandering through nonpartisan districting processes. But leadership in the House and Senate are staunchly opposed to any effort to allow an independent, non-partisan group to draw districts. And, despite having broad bipartisan support, and despite the use of discharge petitions and procedural maneuvers by Democrats in both the House and Senate, every one of those bills has died without even a committee hearing.
Requiring an independent commission would have done more than just ensure that the districts are not drawn for partisan advantage, it would have shown the rest of the state that it is possible to engage in a fair and unbiased process that leads to maps that truly value the vote of every single North Carolina citizen. And, by showing that districts can successfully be drawn in a non-partisan way, we could move North Carolina one step closer to ending gerrymandering for good.
It is my hope that the folks on City Council will help us take this step forward by committing now to starting the process of appointing the independent commission called for by my amendment. If we are going to demand that our Republican colleagues institute those processes for the state and federal districts which they now hold, we have to be willing to lead by example. I truly believe this is a process that can work, and that it is absolutely necessary for the future of our democracy.