Legislators kicked off North Carolina’s redistricting process Wednesday with a joint meeting of the Senate and House committees that will help redraw the maps on the state on congressional level for the next decade.
There’s already controversy.
N.C. Senate Democratic Leader Martin Nesbitt, who represents Buncombe County, took issue with the committee makeup, urging for the inclusion of Sen. Dan Blue, D-Wake and Sen. Daniel Clodfelter, D-Mecklenburg, both attorneys.
In a prepared statement, Nesbitt offered to remove himself and colleague Sen. Charlie Dannelly, D-Mecklenburg from the group to include the other two senators who he called, “the two senators in this body with the most experience on redistricting.”
“I can only conclude that Sen. Clodfelter and Sen. Blue were excluded because of their special knowledge and experience,” he said.
Committee Chairman Bob Rucho, R-Mecklenburg, denied the request, explaining that he took great care to achieve a geographical and urban vs. rural balance among the membership and that he doesn’t want to add attorneys to the group.
“Y’all had a chance to do it,” Rucho said, alluding to the fact that this is the first time Republicans have been in charge of the process in more than a century.
“In the past this committee has been led by attorneys. For the first time in a long time we are going to try to have normal people lead this because redistricting shouldn’t be that hard to understand. … The last thing I want to do is replace some non-attorneys in this process.”
Nesbitt said that flies in the face of Rucho’s stated intent for “fair and legal” lines.
“Sen. Rucho reminds this chamber again and again about his desire to draw ‘fair and legal’ districts though a ‘fair and open’ redistricting process,” Nesbitt said. “But when you deny people with the most expertise and the most knowledge the opportunity to assist … there is no intent to have a fair or open redistricting process.”
Other than the initial sparring on the committee membership, Wednesday’s meeting was rather straightforward. Legislative staff explained the guiding rules, the U.S. Voting Rights Act, and other case law that will govern redistricting.
Rucho says the goal is to have lines in place by June 1 to submit to the U.S. Justice Department for pre-clearance. He says it will be “more open and transparent than ever before.”