Controversial GOP–drawn districts become law

The first Republican-controlled General Assembly in 140 years ratified controversial voter district plans July 28 that split Asheville and Buncombe County in ways that are likely to benefit GOP candidates.

The law shifts almost all of Asheville’s reliably Democratic voters from the 11th Congressional District, currently represented by Democrat Heath Shuler, to the conservative 10th, presently the domain of Republican Patrick McHenry.

Leading up to the bills’ passage, a bipartisan host of critics charged that it was a blatantly political move that ignores traditional geographic, cultural and economic boundaries. A member of the House Redistricting Committee, Buncombe Republican Rep. Tim Moffitt proposed an amendment July 27 to put Asheville back in the 11th, but he was the only Republican member of that body to vote for it; it failed 17 to 23. Buncombe Democratic Rep. Susan Fisher later introduced a similar amendment on House floor; it failed 65 to 51.

Meanwhile, GOP leadership defended the plan, with House Redistricting Chairman Rep. David Lewis arguing that Buncombe County will benefit from having two representatives in the U.S. House and noting that the new maps split most other metropolitan areas of the state as well.

Under the new law, analysts predict Republicans could win as many as 10 of the state’s 13 U.S. House seats, including the 11th.

More divisions

The General Assembly also passed new Statehouse districts that are likely to polarize both the local delegation and the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners.

Approved along party lines, the new maps place Buncombe Democratic Rep. Patsy Keever in the same district as Fisher (the 114th, which now includes most of Asheville), potentially pitting them against each other in a primary next year. However, both colleagues have said they don’t want to run against each other. And Keever is reportedly considering a congressional run against Rep. McHenry.

Meanwhile, the law secures a Republican-heavy 116th for Rep. Moffitt and an open 115th that seems to be a swing district, according to voter data from the State Board of Elections.

And due to a change in local election law engineered in Raleigh and spearheaded by Rep. Moffitt back in May, the new Statehouse districts will also apply to the Buncombe County commissioners.

Vice Chair Bill Stanley and Commissioner Holly Jones both live in the 114th District. After being shuffled between the 115th and 116th in different drafts, Commissioners K. Ray Bailey and Carol Peterson are now both in the 115th. The board chair (currently David Gantt) will continue to be elected countywide. All five Democratic incumbents face re-election next year.

The new law also expands the board to seven members. During next year’s transition, each district will elect two commissioners: The winner gets a four-year term and the runner-up two years (after that, the elections will be staggered). Thus, while both incumbents in the 114th and 115th districts could still be re-elected, they will now compete for the four-year term.

Meanwhile, the the redrawn 114th’s liberal demographics suggest a more left-leaning candidate could displace one of the incumbents. Asheville City Council member Brownie Newman is rumored to be considering a run; he announced July 15 that he won’t seek re-election to Council. And the new conservative-leaning 116th could pave the way for two Republicans to get elected to the Board.

However, the new districts could change again before the 2012 elections: State Democratic and NAACP leaders are considering legal challenges to the new districts on the grounds that they disenfranchise minority voters, according to Senate Minority Leader Martin Nesbitt.

The new U.S. House districts:

The new Statehouse and Buncombe County Board of Commissioners districts:

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