Proposed new N.C. House districts would put two of Forsyth County's Republican lawmakers into Democratic-leaning districts where Democrats are already in office, according to maps showing the proposed new district lines.
Acting under a judicial orders to redraw districts to eliminate an "extreme partisan gerrymander," the proposed new district lines for the N.C. House also create two Republican-leaning districts with no sitting incumbent.
Most dramatically, the district changes would move both Republican Rep. Donny Lambeth, the senior chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, and Democratic Rep. Evelyn Terry into a new District 75.
The new District 75 would have heavy Democratic leanings: In the 2014 contest for a U.S. Senate seat, Democrat Kay Hagan got almost 70 percent of the vote in the precincts that would make up the new 75th. Hagan was defeated statewide by Thom Tillis, the Republican.
The new 75th would sit compactly in the south-central part of the county, taking in both city and suburban precincts.
Lambeth said Thursday that as long as the new districts meet the requirements, "I support whatever these maps look like."
"It is irrelevant where I live or what district I am in today," Lambeth said. "It would be a shame for any experienced legislators who may want to return to be double-bunked, but that is not my choice."
Terry said she was studying the plan.
In the other dramatic change, four-term Republican Rep. Debra Conrad and first-term Democratic Rep. Derwin Montgomery would both be placed in a new 72nd District that is also heavily Democratic. In the 2014 Senate contest, almost two-thirds of the voters in the precincts making up the proposed new 72nd cast ballots for the Democrat.
The new 72nd would be an urban district, stretching across the northern part of Winston-Salem from east to west.
The maps are by no means final at this point.
Montgomery called the maps "a first pass at what new districts will look like," and said he's "working for fair maps."
"If in the final map, Rep. Conrad and I are still double-bunked, it will be a matter that we both will have to leave up to the voters," he said.
Conrad said she needs to review the map before commenting.
The changes would deny Winston-Salem Council Member Dan Besse the rematch he is seeking after his close loss to Lambeth in 2018. Besse's home is in the new 71st District, which looks likely to go Republican based on past voting history.
The new 71st takes in Clemmons, Lewisville and parts of southwest Winston-Salem.
Besse was quick to denounce the proposed maps.
"Overall, they’ve selected a map designed to favor retaining three out of five seats as Republican, despite the fact that Forsyth is now a strongly Democratic county," Besse said. "They’ve developed new procedural smokescreens, but the underlying reality is that they’re up to their same old gerrymandering tricks."
If the new districts survive, District 74 would be a Republican-leaning district taking in Kernersville, Walkertown and other parts of eastern Forsyth County. No current incumbent lives in the district.
The new 73rd District includes all of Yadkin County as well as northwestern Forsyth County and would have a GOP tilt. Lee Zachary, the Republican incumbent, lives in Yadkin County. Zachary's aide said he was out of town on Thursday.
A panel of three state judges on Sept. 3 rejected the maps drawn by state lawmakers, saying legislators took extreme advantage in drawing voting districts to help elect a maximum number of Republican lawmakers.
The judges gave lawmakers two weeks to try again. The redrawn maps are subject to the approval of the judges, who could reject the maps if they do not comply with the stated criteria.
The proposed House map was posted on the legislative website Thursday. The Senate redistricting maps were posted late Tuesday.
The Senate map would shift much of western Forsyth, as well as half of the northern precincts, into a new District 32, now represented by Democratic Sen. Paul Lowe Jr.
Republican Sen. Joyce Krawiec's District 31 would gain most of the southernmost precincts in Forsyth, as well as chunks of eastern Winston-Salem. Krawiec retains all of Davie County.
Krawiec said Thursday that since the Senate maps came out, she and Lowe have been looking over the lines.
"We do want to keep municipalities whole as much as possible, and the court order stated that could be a factor in redrawing maps," she said.
Redistricting would affect 44 of Forsyth's 101 precincts in the Senate.
The shift has the potential to make Senate District 31 and Senate District 32 more competitive for 2020, particularly given that all but one of the 20 precincts shifting into Senate District 31 voted Democratic in 2018.
The courts have said it appeared computer-generated data allowed GOP mapmakers to configure the racial and/or voting district components to an unfair party advantage.
The latest 357-page ruling says Senate District 31 and House District 75 are among those in the state benefiting the GOP most from gerrymandered maps.
House Districts 74 (Conrad) and 75 (Lambeth) include Democratic-leaning voting districts on the northern and southern sides of Winston-Salem.
"But both of those districts wrap around the city to include Republican-dominated (voting districts) on either side of Forsyth County," the ruling said.
In 2018, Lambeth, with 53.1% of the vote, defeated Democratic challenger Besse, who garnered 46.9%, in a heated race.
Conrad won 54.5% of the vote to Terri LeGrand's 45.5%.
House District 77, held by Repubican Julia Howard, was also singled out as an example of gerrymandering. Howard's district was shifted south in 2017 to include more of Rowan County.
The stunning decision by House Republican leadership to conduct and approve a veto-override vote Wednesday on the state budget — while the majority of Democrats were absent from the House floor — could have a spillover effect into the redistricting maps.
"This was shockingly bad behavior on the part of the Republicans," said Zagros Madjd-Sadjadi, an economics professor at Winston-Salem State University.
If Democrats are more emboldened now to stick together to oppose any GOP-supported redistricting maps, "it could mean that the court will order the redistributing process for both the 2020 election, and what will happen after the 2020 census will be turned over to an independent commission," Madjd-Sadjadi said.