After hours of sparring with Democrats over race and gerrymandering, Senate Republicans advanced their new legislative maps Thursday evening with a few small changes.
The Senate redistricting committee meeting came two days after dozens of North Carolinians sounded off on the maps in public hearings throughout the state and less than a week after the committee released its proposed new maps for nearly thirty legislative districts in the state. In June, the Supreme Court sided with a lower court ruling that 28 of the state’s 170 legislative districts were illegally racially gerrymandered. To remedy that, courts gave the legislature until September 1 to draw new legislative districts.
Thursday’s committee meeting lasted for more than four hours but yielded few major changes to the Senate’s proposed maps. Democrats offered five amendments. Two passed the committee and three were rejected.
Of the two amendments that did pass the committee, one moved about 300 people to Cumberland County to keep Democratic Sen. Ben Clark’s home into the correct district, and the other switched two precincts in Wake County in order to preserve historic African-American “communities of interest.”
The committee spent the rest of the time arguing along partisan lines. Republicans rejected a version of the maps introduced by attorneys from the plaintiffs in the case, the Southern Coalition for Social Justice. The version introduced would have double-bunked a number of Republican senators who would then have to run against one another in primaries, said the committee’s GOP chair, Sen. Ralph Hise.
“The ridiculous nature of this map speaks for itself,” he added.
Republicans also pressed Democrats on the person they chose to assist them in drawing several of their maps, Dr. Kareem Crayton, a consultant and former UNC Chapel Hill professor whose work “centers on the intersection of law, politics, and race.”
Crayton’s background led to an argument about his credentials and why he was picked to help out with the maps. Democratic Minority Leader Sen. Dan Blue said he was chosen because he knows “what a gerrymandered district looks like,” but Republicans focused on his expertise specifically on “law, politics, and race.”
The two parties have consistently sparred over what role race should play in drawing the maps, and yesterday’s hearing was no different. The courts ruled that 28 the GOP’s maps from 2011 were illegally racially gerrymandered, but Republicans, in establishing rules for redrawing those districts, recently decided not to use race considerations as a factor when drawing the lines (they did green-light a rule that would allow partisan advantage).
Republicans have stood by that decision, but Democrats have consistently wondered how they would be able to tell if the new maps were also illegal racial gerrymanders if they didn’t factor race into the maps.
In the hearing, Democratic Sen. Terry Van Duyn put it simply: “We just disagree about race.”
The Senate is expected to vote on the maps today as the House redistricting committee deliberates over its own versions of the maps. Both the House and Senate must approve the maps before a three-panel judge’s September 1 deadline.