Opinion: This Could Change Everything

New legislative elections in 2017? The courts just threw N.C. a life raft
Logan Cyrus

As of Thursday morning, Roy Cooper’s lead over Pat McCrory in the North Carolina governor’s race stood at 10,257 votes. If the 10,000-vote margin holds after a recount of Durham County ballots, McCrory, “North Carolina’s Sore Loser,” is fresh out of options. Cooper will be the next governor.

Until this week, that seemed only symbolically important. Republicans still held veto-proof, gerrymandering-enabled supermajorities in both legislative houses. But then, on Tuesday, a federal court ordered the General Assembly to redraw 28 legislative districts and hold new elections in 2017.

Just in case the significance of this isn’t immediately apparent, listen up: This is a big honkin’ deal. All of a sudden, North Carolina is, at least potentially, in play again.

All the bizarre legislation that’s come out of Raleigh since the beginning of 2013—HB2, the voter ID/suppression law, the infamous “motorcycle vagina” law—rolled down a chute buttressed by a legislature beholden to no one, not even a Republican governor. Now, if Democrats can pick up, say, five seats in either the Senate or House next year, a Democratic governor could see his vetoes stand, and a runaway General Assembly could see its power checked by an entity besides the court system. For close to four years, the Old North State has been a laboratory for the most right-wing legislation in America, operating under a system they designed and which would next to impossible to alter merely through voting. New district lines open the door.

The long-term fix, one I’ve written about before, is to take the lab out of the hands of the people—of either party—who benefit most from its product. Jeff Jackson, the young state senator from Charlotte, addressed this in a Facebook post Wednesday, when a bunch of us reporter types were running around chasing the Keith Scott story:

Ultimately, of course, we need to pass independent redistricting. It was the first bill I ever filed, and I’ll file it again as soon as we’re back in session. Both parties have played this game and the only way to stop it is to take the map-drawing pen out of the hands of the politicians, who can’t help but cheat.

That’s the other key thing to remember: Of course both parties have gerrymandered down through the years. But it was only in 2010, the last Census year, when the party in power—which in North Carolina happened to be the GOP, for the first time since Reconstruction—was able to use software to achieve an unprecedented degree of racial gerrymandering. The courts recognized this in the recent redistricting ruling from Wisconsin.

Independent redistricting commissions are in place and work in other states. The time has come—passed, really—for one in North Carolina. And for the first time in some years, there’s hope that a bill creating one could actually make it out of the Legislative Building.

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