Independent Redistricting Commission
August 22, 1996
The United States Supreme Court ordered new congressional districts for North Carolina. The Courts gave the state legislature until April Fool's Day to come up with a plan. And our General Assembly did it. They produced a plan last week that ensures that our current members of Congress stay that way - by transferring precincts and counties from one district to the other, to remove unfavorable voters and to import favorable ones.
Here in Wake County the effect is to ensure David Price's election through the year 2000. While many citizens voted for him in Western Wake it is rather insulting to these voters to insulate him from a serious contest. The same effect is true for the Republican incumbents in other parts of the state who have also been given a 4-year free ride.
Redistricting is one law that a legislature is not capable of doing correctly. I don't mean that there is a lack of legislative intelligence, integrity or willingness. What I mean is that a legislature cannot set aside from its collective consciousness the issues of incumbency that prevent the goal of fair districting.
The House and Senate redistricting co-chairs, two nice, bright fellows, even assured uson public television that incumbent protection was a major goal of their plan.
Democrats and Republicans alike cannot resist the pressures to advance their own careers and those of their party colleagues in Congress by drawing districts to ensure security and advancement for the current incumbents.
So what is to be done? There is a bill percolating in the State House by Rep. John Weatherly. Its principles are sound.
Future redistricting would be performed by an independent commission appointed by the General Assembly but not answerable to it. Commissioners would have academic degrees in computer science, demographics, statistics or geography. They would be disqualified for the rest of their life from holding elected political office. This should keep "back scratching" to a minimum.
The report of a redistricting plan would not be subject to vote or amendment by the General Assembly. The Commissioners would be ordered to comply with all federal and state rules concerning redistricting including the principles of one person - one vote and any applicable civil rights rules. Otherwise Commissioners would be ordered to produce congressional districts that are as compact and contiguous as possible so that voters would have some clue as to the whereabouts of their candidates - both before and after the election. And the Commissioners would be ordered to ignore the political futures of incumbent members of Congress.
During the last redistricting cycle North Carolina tried hard to please the race obsessed bureaucrats of the United States Justice Department. As a result North Carolina's offering was the subject to derision around the nation. It was scorned by the Courts for its truly bizarre configurations of congressional districts. In 1997 the obsession was with protecting the hides of the current members of Congress and will thus be scorned by the voters. Let's get it right in the next millennium.