Once every 10 years, state legislators get a chance to redraw congressional districts. After their historic gains last November, North Carolina Republicans get a go at the process for the first time in more than 100 years. And in the maps they’ve released today, July 1, many Asheville voters have been stripped out of the 11th Congressional District that Democrat Heath Shuler represents and moved to the 10th, currently represented by Republican Patrick McHenry.
In May, media speculation that Republican leaders might make such a move — placing slivers of the heavily Democratic city of Asheville in the heavily Republican 10th District — set off a firestorm of criticism from local Democratic residents and leaders, who charged that such a move would make it nearly impossible for most of Asheville to be represented by a Democrat, because the rest of the 10th District is so heavily populated by Republicans.
“Ripping Buncombe County in half with Asheville out of it is a terrible idea,” declared Asheville resident Justin Wight at an April 30 public hearing on the matter.
Republican leaders, however, have maintained that the new districts would be fair. On June 30, the night before the new maps were released, Buncombe Republican Rep. Tim Moffitt, who serves on the redistricting committee, told Xpress that he hadn’t even seen drafts of the maps yet and that politics wouldn’t be a factor.
“They’re drawn by lawyers,” he insisted. “I’m just as curious to see them as anyone else.” Republican Speaker of the House Thom Tillis also insisted that legislators were deferring to lawyers on the specifics, saying he hadn’t seen the maps yet either.
And lawyers are sure to be part of the process going forward, as it’s very likely the new districts will face legal challenges as they have in the past.
Meanwhile, in a newly drawn 11th District that lacks many of Asheville’s reliably Democratic voters, Rep. Shuler’s chances of re-election could take a big hit. In the days leading up to the new district announcement, Rep. Shuler has been reportedly considering taking an athletic-director job at UT Knoxville.
However, Shuler spokesperson, Andrew Whalen, released a statement soon after the maps were released declaring: “Shuler is running for re-election in 2012 and looks forward to continuing to fight for all the working families of Western North Carolina. … This is the partisan and politically gerrymandered map we expected. It does nothing to move our nation forward, but rather continues to divide us.”
Statewide, John Davis, editor of the John Davis Report, writes that “Under the new congressional districts released today, the partisan advantage will immediately shift from seven Democrats and six Republicans to eight Republican and only three guaranteed Democratic districts, with two that will depend on the strengths of the candidates and the prevailing partisan winds of the given election year.”
The Joint House and Senate Redistricting Committee, which holds responsibility for determining the new districts, will hold a July 7 public hearing that will be telecast to various locations across the state. Locally, the proceedings will be held at A-B Tech and telecast to Raleigh (More info here).
Here’s the new proposed 11th District:
And here’s the new proposed 10th District, which now includes parts of Asheville: