Under the new lines, two Republican congressmen — George Holding of Raleigh and Mark Walker of Summerfield, near Greensboro — are drawn into the new Democratic-leaning districts, making their reelection prospects next year uncertain.
But Democrats are asking for more, saying that the map should reflect the state’s partisan makeup — even though a Democratic-affiliated group backed the lawsuit seeking to declare that practice unconstitutional. They are seeking at least six Democratic districts, and vowed Friday to challenge the map in court.
“We really need to have a fair map, we need a 6-7 map or a 7-6 map or a 6-6-1 map. Those would be fair maps,” said Rep. G.K. Butterfield, a Democrat who represents the state’s 1st Congressional District. “This appears on the face of it to be a 5-8 map, which doesn’t quite get us where we need to go.”
The latest map — designed by state Rep. David Lewis, one of the legislature’s redistricting chairmen, and approved late Thursday by the state House of Representatives and Friday in the Senate — creates a new Democratic-leaning district in Raleigh and another anchored in Greensboro. In the current map, those cities are carved into different districts, diluting their heavily Democratic vote.
State Sen. Paul Newton, one of the legislature’s redistricting authors, said Thursday that “fair is in the eye of the beholder” and he chided Democrats for seeking a partisan measure of districts. Newton said Republicans used no racial or partisan data to draw the maps and closely followed criteria including compactness and equal distribution of population.
“They have revealed motives that make is seem inevitable that we will not reach consensus with the minority party,” Newton said.
Dan Blue, Democratic leader of the North Carolina Senate, said Democrats are not asking to use partisan data in the drawing of districts but simply for an after-the-fact assessment to see how fairly the districts divide up power based on the makeup of the population. Blue said he agrees with Butterfield’s assessment that six Democratic districts, or five Democratic districts and one swing seat, would make for a fair map.
Blue also predicted that the plaintiffs in the lawsuit will likely object in court to any map that does not achieve greater parity between the parties.
“You can’t use partisanship in drawing the map. You ought not to look at how these districts are formed in putting them together,” Blue said. “But surely you should be able to go back and see what the results are.”
On Capitol Hill on Thursday, Holding said the line-drawing is still in its early stages and he is not fretting about a process he cannot control. He also noted that he will retain options even if he is zoned into a bluer district, with North Carolina expected to pick up at least one new congressional seat after the 2020 Census and a Senate seat coming up in 2022.
“My firm belief is, no one is entitled to a congressional district,” said Holding, a former federal prosecutor. “You know, it’s the people’s house, we call it that for a reason. So I get somewhat amused by all these members who are all saying, ‘Oh, my gosh, they’re taking my seat away from me’ — when it wasn’t your seat to start with.”
In a tweet, Walker said: “I love the people of NC and I will keep fighting for them — no matter what liberal attorneys, judicial activists and politicians in Raleigh do in self-interest. My promise of people over politics is undeterred. We’ll continue to serve our constituents wherever the trail leads.”
In addition to asking that their party be able to win in at least six of the state’s 13 congressional seats, legislative Democrats have also told Republicans that they will only support a new map if one of the new Democratic-leaning districts is anchored in Fayetteville, allowing state Sen. Ben Clark to run for the seat.
If elected, Clark would become the third African American member of the North Carolina congressional delegation, after Butterfield, a former state Supreme Court justice who represents a northeastern rural swath and much of Durham, and Alma Adams, whose compact, heavily African American district encompasses most of Charlotte.
Advocates for nonpartisan redistricting hailed the preliminary ruling from a three-judge Superior Court panel on Nov. 4 declaring the map illegally gerrymandered under the state’s constitution. The lawsuit, backed by a redistricting advocacy group affiliated with former Obama attorney general Eric H. Holder Jr., cited as evidence the fact that more voters chose Democratic congressional candidates than Republicans in last year’s midterm elections, yet Republicans won 10 of the state’s 13 districts.
The suit also described multiple instances in which the map divides concentrated communities of Democratic — and often African American — voters, including Fayetteville, Greensboro and the Triangle area encompassing Raleigh, Durham and Chapel Hill.
Many of the map proposals submitted by lawmakers in recent days would create a Democratic district in the Fayetteville area. The state senator from that area, Clark, submitted five proposals creating a heavily Democratic congressional district encompassing his own home. None of the five proposals drew an incumbent into the Fayetteville district, meaning it would become an open seat in the 2020 election.
Many other proposals feature pairs of Republicans into a single Republican district, potentially creating a competitive game of musical chairs for some members.
Some Republicans argued that, although more voters chose Democrats than Republicans in last year’s elections, the reality is that most Democrats live in more concentrated communities, meaning they are likelier to be packed into overwhelmingly Democratic districts. That makes it difficult to draw a map that provides proportional representation without slicing up cities and counties, which the judicial panel just told them they may not do, they said.
The new map will be in use only for one election cycle — 2020 — because yet another map will be drawn in 2021 following next year’s Census, after which North Carolina is expected to pick up at least one congressional seat due to population growth. Gov. Roy Cooper, a Democrat, does not have veto power over district maps.
Mike DeBonis contributed to this report.