RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) - Republican lawmakers unveiled redrawn North Carolina congressional districts Wednesday that are meant to fix a federal court’s findings of illegal racial gerrymandering - but will also put several incumbents on uncertain footing.
While the new map was receiving preliminary approval, Gov. Pat McCrory announced he’s convening a special session Thursday so the full General Assembly can vote on it. Meanwhile, the U.S. Supreme Court could still intervene in the case.
The most significant changes include a proposed 4th District containing the homes of its current congressman, Democratic Rep. David Price, but also Republican U.S. Rep. George Holding. Leaders of the redistricting committee say the district should still favor Democrats.
The new map would also eliminate the snakelike shape of the 12th District, one of two struck down by the federal court. The new 12th would be entirely within Mecklenburg County and contain no incumbent.
Democrats, meanwhile, are concerned the seat of U.S. Rep. Alma Adams could be jeopardized by a new Republican-leaning 13th District.
The boundaries were redrawn in response to the federal court ruling earlier this month that the current 1st and 12th Districts were illegally race-based. Republicans disagree with the ruling but created new lines to ensure they meet the court’s deadline for a new map by Friday.
“This is a heroic effort that we could even get all this accomplished in that short period of time,” said Sen. Bob Rucho, R-Mecklenburg, one of the leaders of the redistricting committee.
Still, the speedy overhaul may not matter if the Supreme Court steps in to allow use of the current maps in the March 15 primary election. Legislative leaders asked the high court to intervene to avoid voter confusion.
The new boundaries were criticized by Democrats such as Senate Minority Leader Dan Blue of Raleigh, who said it’s disingenuous for Republicans to claim race played no part. He argues they used party affiliation as a proxy.
“I don’t think it takes much imagination to see exactly what you’ve done here. In three districts … you’ve again managed to stuff about half the black population in the state,” he said.
Rep. David Lewis, R-Harnett, one of the leaders of the redistricting committee, denied race was used in any way.
“Sen. Blue appears to want to try to create something that does not exist,” he said.
Lewis said the new map achieves key criteria including roughly equal population for each district and compactness.
He said the new map includes fewer split counties and voting precincts than before. The 1st District, which once covered parts of 24 counties, now includes some or all of 14.
Based on recent statewide elections, the proposed map appears to give Republicans a good chance to retain their current 10-3 advantage within North Carolina’s congressional delegation. Lewis said he believes Democrats will still have an edge in the 1st, 4th and 12th Districts.
Data released by the redistricting committee shows Republicans candidates received the majority of votes in 10 of the reconfigured districts during elections for governor and U.S. Senate in 2012 and 2014.
But the retooled boundaries appear to endanger two relatively new incumbents in Holding and Adams.
Holding’s home would be pulled into the reshaped 4th District, which has been held by Price almost continuously since 1987. Democrats enjoyed comfortable margins in what’s now the reconfigured 4th District during recent statewide elections.
Adams, a Democrat, would no longer be in the current “serpentine” 12th District, which takes in portions of Charlotte, Greensboro and Winston-Salem, largely connected by land along Interstate 85 in between. Instead, she would be inserted into a new 13th District stretching west from Guilford County into Iredell and Davie counties - both Republican strongholds
Members of Congress aren’t required to live in their district, but it’s considered advantageous to do so.
Rep. Bert Jones, R-Rockingham, said North Carolina voters have shown a willingness to cross party lines before.
“We’re not talking about robots,” he said. “If you have the right candidate … you have the opportunity to win in any district.”
The full House and Senate would have to approve the same map in the special session to make the boundaries the law. Redistricting isn’t subject to a governor’s veto. Lewis said legislation also would be considered during the special session to set a new date for the congressional primary based on updated maps.
The three-judge panel of the federal court didn’t demand in its order to receive a copy of updated maps, but the plaintiffs could formally ask the judges to examine the new boundaries.
Sen. Floyd McKissick, D-Durham, who expressed concern about Adams’ chances in a strongly Republican district, said he’s also concerned legislators are being asked to digest so much information so quickly - “almost like the speed of light.”
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