The Republican plan for congressional districts puts Raleigh Democrat Brad Miller in the crosshairs, no doubt about it. As much as the GOP’s plan is aimed at replacing other Democrats too (Larry Kissell, Heath Shuler, Mike McIntyre), Miller is their Enemy No. 1. That said, they may have gone too far in trying to eliminate him, meaning Miller just might survive the Republican putsch.
Two points, one on Miller’s residence and the second on the likely illegality of the GOP’s proposed District 13 (clarifying: the likely illegality of District 1, with direct impacts on District 13) under the Voting Rights Act, Section 5:
1) The Republican plan essentially puts Miller into the same district (District 4) with Congressman David Price, a fellow Democrat. That’s not literally the case. The Republican map pulls most of Miller’s current District 13 out of Raleigh, but it leaves behind a little bubble around the apartment complex off Wake Forest Road where Miller’s been living since his divorce.
(If you haven’t seen the GOP map, I’ve copied it below with a link to a larger pdf from the General Assembly website.)
Leaving the little bubble of Raleigh behind allows the Republicans to say, and causes the media to repeat, that Miller continues to reside in their proposed District 13, even though this new District 13 would not include most of Miller’s old state Senate district, nor his old state House district, nor most of the city — Raleigh — that’s been his home base for the last three decades.
In fact, Miller’s political base — and the house he lived in until his divorce — are in the new District 4, Price’s district. So, ironically, is the part of Fayetteville where Miller grew up and where some members of his family, including his mother, still live. (District 4 is quite a mess in its own right.)
Thus, I would say that for all practical purposes the GOPs have thrown Price, a 70-year old congressman first elected to the House in 1986, and Miller, a 58-year old congressman first elected to the House in 2002, into the same congressional district.
The two are close enough friends and political allies that they won’t run against each other. So one will have to defer to the other. The assumption is that Miller will defer to Price. But that assumption could be wrong if Price, whose consensus-seeking legislative style is pretty much antique in Washington these days, decides he’d rather spend his next years in some other form of public service. That would open the door for Miller to seek re-election in the district that is his real, if not currently his literal, home.
2) As part of the decimation of Miller’s current District 13, the Republicans have extended District 1, Congressman G. K. Butterfield’s district, into eastern Wake County and East Raleigh. This move is dubious at best under the Voting Rights Act. For a detailed analysis of why this is the case, I recommend a blog posted to Daily Kos a few days ago by someone calling himself “roguemapper” — a person apparently located in the NC mountains who’s promised to testify at the redistricting hearing tomorrow from the Asheville-Buncombe site. (The hearing is an elaborate teleconference.)
Let me see if I can put the latter case in simple terms. Butterfield’s district is a majority-minority district. (Butterfield, though very light-skinned, identifies as African-American.) Under the Voting Rights Act, black voters in 40 eastern NC counties are entitled to protection given the racist history of the region. Many of these counties are in District 1.
District 1 needs to add about 97,000 votes to be equal in population to other new districts; i.e., it’s grown more slowly than the rest of the state. 97,000 voters could be added easily by extending the district part-way into Durham County. To add 97,000 voters the way the Republicans propose to do it, however — that is, by extending the district into Wake County — five of the eastern NC counties entitled to VRA protection get dropped from District 1.
They must be dropped, because otherwise the added population from Wake County would make District 1 too big (too populace).
It should be noted that the Republicans are blaming/crediting Butterfield for the shape of the new district, saying in a statement that he expressed his preference for adding Wake precincts rather than Durham precincts. Butterfield has flatly denied saying any such thing.
Dropping five counties where the minority voters are entitled to protection under the VRA from a majority-minority district created to protect the rights of such voters would seem on its face to be a violation of Section 5, which bars “retrogression” as the result of any redistricting plan.
Under the VRA, local and state jurisdictions ordinarily seek what’s called “pre-clearance” for their redistricting plans — prior approval, that is — from the U.S. Department of Justice.
The Republicans, however, plan to take an alternative course, skipping Justice Department review and going straight to the D.C. Circuit of Appeals, an option open to all but which is ordinarily eschewed if you’re pretty sure your new plan isn’t retrogressive. (If it’s a good plan under the VRA, it wins quick pre-clearance from Justice, saving you time and money.)
We know the Republicans are skipping Justice because they said so in that infamous “private” caucus where they accidentally left a broadcast microphone on.
Nonetheless, the test for the D.C. Court, as it would be for the Justice Department, will be whether an alternative map or maps were available to the Republicans that would’ve added the needed voters (97,000 of them) to District 1 without harming minority voters in the 40 covered counties.
It should be obvious that such maps were available and were not adopted because the Republicans wanted to decimate Miller’s district.
Thus, Miller could survive a second way, which is that the courts throw out this proposed District 1/District 13 mishmash, and the Republicans are forced to redraw District 13 in a way that allows Miller to run in it:
a) as his home district;
b) as a district in which a Democrat can be competitive.
As things stand now, District 13 is virtually unwinnable by a Democrat, especially one who lives in Raleigh when so much of the district is out west — way west. Put enough of Raleigh back in it, however, and who knows?
Here’s the proposed GOP map — with a larger version available here: Congressredistrictmap1.pdf
For more on why the GOP’s District 13 is a lock for a Republican candidate — and why the Republican map would likely result in 10 of the state’s 13 congressional districts voting Republican, see this blog post, especially the chart halfway down.