The potential combining of Winston-Salem with all of Guilford County into one U.S. House district would mean the state's third, fifth and ninth largest cities would have just one voice in Congress, rather than the current three.
House Bill 1029, titled "Congress 2020" by bill sponsor N.C. Rep. David Lewis, R-Harnett, cleared the state House by a 55-46 vote along party lines Thursday.
The Senate is expected to vote on the bill during today's session. The bill will be addressed first at 10 a.m. in the Senate Redistricting and Elections committee.
Redistricting maps are not subject to a potential veto by the governor. Lewis said the districts would go into effect once the law is enacted. Incumbents do not have to live in the district they represent.
The map includes all of Winston-Salem, most of Kernersville and about half of Walkertown in the 6th District that currently has Republican Mark Walker as incumbent.
The map would place Clemmons, Lewisville, Rural Hall, the northern areas of Forsyth and the rest of Kernersville and Walkertown into the 10th District, which currently has Republican Patrick McHenry as incumbent. That district also would contain Rockingham, Stokes, Surry and Yadkin counties.
Asked whether he anticipates pushback on splitting Forsyth, Lewis said the combined population of Forsyth and Guilford is too large to be contained in one district and too small to be in two.
"The input (during the process) was to keep Guilford whole, which the other maps did that as well," Lewis said. "We tried to respect Winston-Salem and not split it up. I think that every county would like to be whole.
"We were told those counties like to work together."
Combining Winston-Salem with all of Guilford "will likely make the urban Triad voice in Washington weaker rather than stronger, because there would no longer be three representatives speaking with a common voice," said Zagros Madjd-Sadjadi, an economics professor at Winston-Salem State University.
"On the other hand, it may strengthen the voice of the more rural parts of Forsyth that are left out of the combined district."
Forsyth is represented currently in the U.S. House by Republican Virginia Foxx (5th District), while Guilford is represented by Walker (6th, covering Greensboro) and Ted Budd (13th, covering High Point).
"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," Walker said in a Twitter post. "My promise of people over politics is undeterred. We'll continue to serve our constituents wherever the trail leads."
Foxx and Budd could not be immediately reached for comment about the redistricting map's impact on their seats.
Foxx would remain in the 5th District, which would stretch from Alleghany, Ashe, Watauga and Wilkes counties in the north to Cleveland and Gaston counties to the south.
Alamance, Davidson, Davie and Rowan would be in the 13th District.
There were several amendments submitted in the House Redistricting committee and House floor that were voted down mostly along party lines.
One amendment would have placed all of Forsyth into the redrawn 9th District, along with Chatham, Davidson, Davie and Randolph counties.
Reliably Republican no more?
Rural voters have made the 5th and 6th districts among the most reliable Republican seats in North Carolina over the past 35 years.
However, given the recent voting trends in Forsyth and Guilford, it is likely the redrawn 6th District could lean Democratic in the 2020 general election.
In the 2018 congressional races affecting Forsyth and Guilford, there were a combined 196,238 votes cast for Democrat candidates DD Adams (77,054, 5th), Ryan Watts (38,402, 6th) and Kathy Manning (80,782, 13th), and a combined 138,832 for Foxx (60,303), Walker (31,956), and Budd (46,573).
That reality could spur the same Democrats to run again in 2020, or could attract new candidates encouraged by the potential Democratic lean.
Angela Flynn is the only announced 2020 Democratic candidate for the 6th District seat, while there is no declared Democratic candidate for the 5th District.
"If the 6th District ends up looking the way it does in the map currently being discussed in the legislature, we can expect a contest in the Democratic primary between some candidates with an electoral base in Greensboro and other candidates with an electoral base in Winston-Salem," said John Dinan, a political science professor at Wake Forest University and a national expert on state legislatures.
"But there's no telling which of these types of candidates would prevail in the Democratic primary and likely the general election.
"This depends on a lot of factors other than simply the population size of the cities and counties."
Guilford or Forsyth lean?
There's already been some concern expressed that because there were more Democratic voters in Guilford than Forsyth in 2018, the likely 6th District Democratic nominee would come from Guilford.
Of course, Forsyth has not had a hometown congressional representative since Foxx's first term began in 2005.
Richard Burr of Winston-Salem served five terms in the seat before successfully running for the U.S. Senate in 2004.
The last Democrat to hold the 5th District seat was Stephen Neal, who served for 10 terms before retiring in 1995.
You have to go back another 10 years beyond Neal to get to the last Democratic to hold the 6th District seat, which was Robin Britt, who served one term in 1983-84.
Mitch Kokai, senior policy analyst with Libertarian think tank John Locke Foundation, said that with just one U.S. House representative, "it’s clearer for constituents whom they should contact when they have questions or concerns."
"If a community has multiple representatives from both major parties — pushing for the same goal — that can help ensure that the issue will get a fair hearing on Capitol Hill regardless of which party controls the U.S. House.”
Why new districts?
The map is part of a specially called redistricting-focused session that began Wednesday.
The session was called after state judges ruled in October that the current congressional maps can't be used because of likely partisan gerrymandering.
The judges encouraged legislators to redraw the congressional map to avoid delaying the March 3 congressional primaries. The State Board of Elections said it needs a congressional redistricting map by mid-December.
Analysts have said the Congress 2020 map could shift the state's congressional districts from 10-3 Republican to potentially 8-5.
Lewis said during the floor debate there are some individuals who believe fair redistricting is "six districts (set for) a 'D,' six districts (set for) an 'R' and one that's 50-50."
House Minority leader Darren Jackson, D-Wake, said during the House floor debate that this is "a solid 8 to 5 map ... but still gerrymandered that makes other districts less competitive."
"D.C. would work so much better if the House representatives were not guaranteed re-election" from this map.
Kokai said the Winston-Salem/Guilford redrawn congressional seat is part of the challenge of lawmakers being "forced in this case to split the state’s 2010 U.S. Census population into 13 equal-sized districts of almost 800,000 people."
"Unless someone offers compelling proof that legislative leaders concocted a more elaborate scheme, I accept the simple explanation that these districts resulted from their efforts — north to south rather than east to west in some instances — to construct reasonably compact districts that complied with all other court directives.
Compact Democratic districts
Madjd-Sadjadi said establishing a compact 6th District with Winston-Salem and Guilford, as is being done with a redrawn 12th District for Mecklenburg County and 2nd District for Wake County, "might be seen as the easiest pathway to defend the proposal since this is in line with what the (state) courts have insisted is needed."
"While Walker’s seat is likely to flip to the Democrats and Rep. George Holding’s seat (2nd District) is now in danger for the Republicans, they are both still winnable in a similar way to the 9th District currently held by Dan Bishop — a third district I would say might flip," Madjd-Sadjadi said.
"Republicans will have to pick and choose their battles, however, if we go into recession in the run-up to the 2020 election."
Lewis said having Davie and Rowan in a nine-county district with Caswell and Person was done in part because much of the proposed 13th District contains primarily rural areas.
Whenever a congressional district is drawn to include a range of different localities and communities, "this can lead to a contest between candidates with electoral bases in different communities in the district," Dinan said.
"We saw this with an earlier version of the 12th District in the 2010s after Mel Watt left office when the district included parts of the Triad and also Charlotte," Dinan said. "This led Democratic candidates with bases in these two areas to compete against each other for dominance."