Colin Campbell has a piece in The News & Observer today highlighting that 53 state legislators are running unopposed in their bids for re-election next year. (The INDY reported the same thing yesterday, FWIW.) That fact alone paints a pretty dismal picture of our state’s democracy, but a quote from a certain state legislator in particular, however, sticks out as especially perplexing:
“Ideally we would like to have candidates in every race,” said House Majority Leader Mike Hager, a Republican from Rutherfordton who’s running unopposed. But Hager admits that recruiting candidates in heavily Democratic districts is a hard sell.
“Why put yourself out there and get eaten by the wolf?” he said. “We always look at the ones we feel are competitive.”
Hager is right: Why would anyone run in a race they already know they’re going to lose, partly because of the state’s ridiculous gerrymandering, and partly because of the inherent advantage that incumbents have over challengers? It would be nice if anyone could actually do something about this—say, the majority party in the House of Representatives.
Well, it turns out that Hager and House Republicans did have a chance to do something: first, by not making the problemworse than it already was, and second, by passing a bipartisan bill to create a nonpartisan commission to draw state and congressional districts. They, of course, did not do that.
As the second-most powerful person in the House, Hager has the ability to make this a legislative priority if he wants to, and he’d have support from Democrats and some Republicans. But Hager’s own voting record shows that he’s not really interested.
Hager, who is running unopposed, was a freshman when the current maps were drawn, and he voted for them. He also voted against a 2011 effort to establish a nonpartisan commission; even Thom Tillis voted for that. He voted for the controversial voter ID law, and after its relaxation this summer, someone wrote a nice piece of voter ID fan fiction on his website that tried to explain how this new law was simple enough for even some dumb Prius driver from New York to understand, completely overlooking the fact that the law doesn’t actually target Prius drivers from New York, but rather African-American voters.
Of course, Hager’s “we” in the quote he gave to Campbell refers to “Republicans”; it doesn’t really bother him that Democrats are actually staying out of more races (40 House and Senate races) than Hager’s party (35 races). It also doesn’t help matters to have statewide primaries eight months before the general election, tightening the window for a potential challenger to decide whether or not it’s worth it to mount a campaign, but that’s another change that Hager voted for.
This is the culmination of a concentrated effort to keep power in Republican hands. For all of the talk from Republicans nationally about reducing the size of the federal government in favor of giving more control to state and local government, that point looks disingenuous when considering that North Carolina Republicans have created a ton of confusion about a voter ID law that we never really needed in the first place, and that Sen. Chad Barefoot and the General Assembly responded to a Democratic sweep of the Wake County Board of Commissioners by redrawing districts to make them more favorable to Republican gains.
Hager, not surprisingly, voted to pass that bill, too.