Tentative maps reshape House, Senate districts
By Jon Hawley
Friday, August 11, 2017
Northeastern North Carolina's legislative districts would see major changes under new maps described by one lawmaker as “very preliminary” that are now posted on the General Assembly's website.
State lawmakers are redrawing legislative districts because the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of North Carolina ruled a year ago that Republican lawmakers had drawn unconstitutional racial gerrymanders in 19 House districts and nine Senate districts. The court has given lawmakers until Sept. 1 to have new maps in place.
Redistricting is in the hands of House and Senate redistricting committees for now, and the House committee has recently posted several draft maps online at www.ncleg.net.
According to the new maps, Senate District 1 would grow from eight counties to 11. Currently the district includes Beaufort, Camden, Chowan, Currituck, Dare, Gates, Hyde, Pasquotank and Perquimans counties. The new district would gain Chowan, Hertford, Tyrrell and Washington, but lose Beaufort.
Senate District 3 currently includes Bertie, Chowan, Edgecombe, Hertford, Martin, Northampton, Tyrrell and Washington. According to the new maps, District 3 would include only Halifax, Edgecombe and Wilson counties. A new District 4 would include Beaufort, Bertie, Martin, Northampton, Vance and Warren counties.
The new maps also reshape House districts. House District 1 currently includes Camden, Chowan, Currituck, Perquimans, and Tyrrell counties, plus part of Pasquotank County. Under the new maps, District 1 would lose Pasquotank and Currituck and gain Bertie and Washington counties.
House District 5 currently includes Bertie, Gates, Hertford and part of Pasquotank counties. The new district would include only Gates, Hertford and Pasquotank counties.
A four-county district would include Currituck, Dare, Hyde and Pamlico.
Though the maps are on the General Assembly’s website, Senate Redistricting Committee member Sen. Erica Smith-Ingram, D-Northampton, stressed Friday they were “very preliminary.” The maps were also adopted before the committee adopted specific criteria — passed over Democratic objections — to guide redistricting.
Nevertheless, the draft maps would greatly reshape how northeastern North Carolinians are represented in Raleigh. According to the maps, Senate District 1 would lose Beaufort County while gaining four less populated counties. That would mean Sen. Bill Cook, a Beaufort Republican, could no longer serve as the region's senator — unless he relocated to live within the new lines.
In an interview Friday, Cook legislative aide Jordan Hennessy said Cook is not on the Senate Redistricting Committee and isn't yet taking a position on what the new districts should be. Hennessy also said he doesn't know if Cook will seek re-election in 2018.
Senate District 3 would shift westward, putting its current senator, Smith-Ingram, in Senate District 4. Smith-Ingram explained Friday she opposes the partisan criteria that Republicans have adopted in guiding how district lines will be drawn. Democrats pushed for Republicans to not consider partisan advantage in how the lines are drawn, she said, adding she also felt the draft district lines didn't make districts compact enough. Lawmakers shouldn't have to drive long distances through other districts to visit all the counties they serve, she explained.
Nevertheless, she said she couldn't say whether she'd vote for or against the draft maps. The final maps will probably be different, she said, adding Democrats are pushing to have closer to final draft maps available by Aug. 21.
State Rep. Howard Hunter, D-Hertford, would see House District 5 shrink from four counties to three — he would serve all of Pasquotank, plus Gates and Hertford. He said he liked that the draft maps aren't splitting counties – which arguably divides communities of similar interests and can contribute to voter confusion. However, he said “the citizens of Bertie are upset that I will not represent them anymore.” Hunter also said he doubted the current maps would be the final ones, but encouraged people to share public comment about redistricting through the General Assembly's website.
Hunter also noted there will be public meetings held around the state on redistricting, but he said a Republican lawmaker told him there won't be any meetings in eastern North Carolina due to limited resources. Hunter suggested the forums should be held at local community colleges or Elizabeth City State University.
As to House District 1, it would lose Currituck, which would apparently go to House District 6, and Pasquotank, but gain Bertie and Washington counties.
The district would still include Chowan, which means Rep. Bob Steinburg, R-Chowan, could presumably continue to serve the district.
But that's not what Steinburg is considering doing. In an interview Thursday, Steinburg said that, if these are the final map lines, he would likely run for the senate seat in Senate District 1. The new, 11-county district would unify the region under a single senator who'd have a strong voice in the General Assembly, he said.