The pressures of the legislative redistricting map deadline have produced a temporary truce in the deeply divided General Assembly.
Members of the House and Senate redistricting committees understand the importance of their work between now and the Sept. 18 deadline set by a panel of three state judges.
Perhaps the most important redistricting meeting occurred at 7:45 p.m. Wednesday with the House committee, not necessarily because of what was accomplished in producing their first public map rendition.
It was that the committee members were able to work civilly about 11 hours after House GOP leadership stunningly called for override votes on Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper’s vetoes of the GOP state budget compromise and Medicaid managed-care start-up funding.
“There is significant anger and rancor among Democrats in both chambers, and a new low in goodwill,” said Rep. Pricey Harrison, D-Guilford, and a redistricting committee member. Harrison’s Senate District 61 is among those being redrawn.
“But we all feel a strong commitment to public service,” Harrison said.
Legislators from both parties said the annual state budget, as pivotal as it is to 10.4 million North Carolinians, remains secondary to how the current redistricting maps will be established.
Although the next series of maps will cover only the 2020 legislative elections, legislators elected or re-elected in those districts will be those creating redistricting maps for 2021-30.
“You’re talking about 10 state budget cycles, rather than just one or two,” Harrison said.
The 17 members of the House Redistricting committee — 10 Republicans and seven Democrats — have met several times to negotiate the House legislative districts for the 2020 election.
Their 15-member counterparts in the Senate Redistricting and Elections committee — 10 Republican and five Democrats — have been doing the same.
The House approved its map legislation Friday, while the Senate will vote at 7 p.m. today.
In a joint statement, Senate Democratic Leader Dan Blue, D-Wake, and GOP Redistricting Committee Chairmen Paul Newton of Cabarrus County, Warren Daniel of Caldwell County, and Ralph Hise of McDowell County, said: “This is the most transparent redistricting process in history.”
“The maps produced in this room in the last several days are fair and nonpartisan. We approve of them and urge the full Senate to do the same.” Only one Democratic committee member voted against the map.
Sen. Joyce Krawiec, R-Forsyth, said she expects a potential Senate veto override vote will not occur until the Senate redistricting map is approved
“The Senate is 100 percent focused right now on drawing new legislative maps to comply with the redistricting court order,” Krawiec said.
Harrison said the more transparent and fairer the 2020 redistricting maps are in terms of eliminating gerrymandered districts, the more likely there will not be a re-establishing of a super-majority in either chamber.
‘Trust is earned’
Among those in the House Redistricting meetings are Rep. David Lewis, R-Harnett, the committee’s chairman and a chief lieutenant to House speaker Tim Moore, and Rep. Deb Butler, D-New Hanover.
Most of the 55 Democrats not present on the House floor were in a redistricting caucus meeting because they had been told by Minority leader Rep. Darren Jackson, D-Wake, that he had been informed by Lewis that there would be no votes taken in Wednesday morning’s session.
Lewis texted a WRAL reporter “no votes 8:30” when asked about Wednesday’s session.
As Rep Jason Saine, R-Lincoln, called for the override vote on the state budget, Butler frantically tried to stop it from taking place, yelling in protest “this is a travesty of the process and you know it.”
The House voted 55-11 to override the state budget veto. There are 65 Republican and 55 Democratic members, which means seven Democrats would have had to support the override at full attendance for a vote.
They were two of the main antagonists during the abrupt veto override votes. Lewis could not be immediately reached for comment about the redistricting negotiations.
“Suffering their incredible hypocrisy didn’t start on 9/11/19,” Butler said Friday.
“We have lived with it all day every day since swearing in, so I will be polite, but any jocularity we may have had is unavailable now.
“Trust is earned, and once it is broken it is hard to restore.”
‘A proper way’
The House committee met 6½ hours after Moore, R-Cleveland, and Lewis held a news conference to boldly defend their tactics in successfully overriding the votes. Moore’s office later released several talking point gleaned from the press conference.
The redistricting meeting was held 3½ hours after several Democratic House members questioned and confronted Moore and Lewis about those tactics, including requesting a motion to recall the two votes.
Rep. Robert Reives, D-Chatham, and a House Redistricting committee member, told Moore before the vote on the recall motions that the manner in how the veto overrides were conducted could make civility difficult for the rest of the current session, if not beyond.
“All we’re asking is that we do things a proper way so we don’t have probably the most toxic work environment that we’ve had, for the next two months we’re working together,” Reives said.
The motions failed 61-54 along party lines.
Saine said Friday that maintaining civility in the redistricting meetings “has not been difficult at all.”
“In the foreword of our Mason’s Manual of Legislative Procedure, our rule book for operations of the legislative process if you will, it succinctly states: ‘a proper application of the rules of procedure will eliminate controversy, confusion and litigation and will make public bodies more efficient in their work and more pleasant to work in.’
“When legislators trust in and abide by our rules, the process works.”
There have been two prominent redistricting initiatives since Republicans gained super-majority control of both chambers from January 2013 to January 2019 through what have been determined to be gerrymandered tactics by state judges.
In those instances, much of the map making was conducted in private by GOP-controlled redistricting committees and the map published with little to no Democratic or public input. The maps were rejected by the courts and ordered redrawn.
Lewis famously, or infamously, said in regards to the state’s 13 congressional districts that the districts are 10-3 Republican because there was not a way to make it work for an 11-2 Republican advantage even though there are more registered Democratic voters than Republicans.
This time around, the three-judge panel ordered a more transparent process with public viewing of the maps as they were being configured during the committee meetings, and dedicated public comment periods.
Even if Democrats fail to win control of the House and Senate in 2020, Harrison said a tightening of the current GOP to Democratic margins should produce a legislature more conducive to compromise.