|Rep. Chuck McGrady|
Maybe they're still feeling the shock waves of last Tuesday's trial court decision that threw out some 50-odd NC House districts and 21 NC Senate districts as unconstitutional partisan gerrymanders. The stink is on gerrymandering, so you might expect a few "moderate" Republicans (rara avis, indeed) to be looking over their shoulders. New districts will follow the Census of 2020. If Democrats should win House or Senate outright next year, Democrats would no longer be armless in the redistricting battles. (Whether they also had the strong stomach for a fight -- why, that's another anatomical question altogether.) McGrady's HB 140, while offering some tangible reform, can also look a lot like a last-ditch hedge by putting it in the state's constitution that no independent redistricting commission is ever gonna get its mitts on North Carolina.
Bottomline: HB 140 would amend the constitution, which makes it more extreme. Thankful to Will Doran for parsing HB 140's other provisions:
The FAIR Act would not create an independent redistricting commission, like some other states use. It would allow the state legislature to retain control over the drawing of the maps, but it would add some extra layers of oversight to the process and institute rules banning politicians from protecting incumbents when drawing new maps. It would also ban them from using any sort of demographic or political data like people’s voting history.The last sentence contains the best parts -- call those proposed new rules "The Hofeller De-flect" -- but the main takeaway is that HB 140 still leaves politicians in charge of drawing their own districts. That's not what we call reform.
So a poker game is underway. Former Attorney General Eric Holder has come out publicly against HB 140 (“...does little to improve the status quo"), and so has Guilford County Rep. Pricey Harrison (“I share Eric Holder’s concerns. HB 140 is not the way N.C. should undertake redistricting reform — ... and it sure doesn’t belong in our constitution”). Mary Wills Bode, executive director of the bipartisan group North Carolinians for Redistricting Reform, supports it. According to Doran, the No. 2 Democrat in the House, Chatham County Rep. Robert Reives, is one of the bill’s lead sponsors. "Numerous other Democrats" also support it. But with Holder and Harrison ringing the alarm bell, other progressive Democrats may peel off. Would HB 140 pass without strong Democratic support?
Some Republican asses are going to be pinched by closing doors in 2020, mainly because of that court-imposed remedy to partisan gerrymandering and the continuing Blue Wave enthusiasm among Democrats and independents. New maps in those 70-odd General Assembly districts are supposed to be final by September 17, but until then, no one can predict anything very concretely. A man's reach should exceed his grasp, or what's a Heaven for? Do the Republican bosses risk losing one chamber of the General Assembly next fall and thus much of their leverage to pass proposed constitutional amendments, or do they release HB 140 for legislative action and protect their everlasting butts while giving up some control over the process? Phil Berger and Tim Moore could certainly go suddenly soft and romantic about HB 140, which would signal a generally weak hand for poker.
What's the best course for Democrats? Decline to support HB 140 -- if it should ever show up on the floor -- and rather trust to the continuing Blue Wave in 2020? Partisan energy plus new maps combined could give Democrats the NC House next year (and/or the Senate?) without also signing onto a bill that would in effect ban independent redistricting commissions via the state's constitution.