Hard hearing: Residents blast redistricting proposal

“Insane.” “Biased.” “Cynical.” Those are just a few of the words outraged Western North Carolina residents used during a July 7 public hearing to describe a proposal to move most of Asheville to the 10th Congressional District, leaving roughly two-thirds of Buncombe County in the 11th District.

Released July 1 by the first Republican-controlled General Assembly in 140 years, the plan would shift almost all of Asheville’s reliably Democratic voters from the 11th District, currently represented by Democrat Heath Shuler, to the conservative 10th, presently the domain of Republican Patrick McHenry. Some 50 residents signed up to speak at A-B Tech’s Ferguson Auditorium. Some tired of waiting, But almost without exception, those who did speak called it a blatantly partisan move to boost Republican power.

“The Republican majority in the Legislature is politicizing the redistricting map in a way that is almost unheard of in North Carolina’s modern political history,” asserted Hickory resident Cliff Moone, the N.C. Democratic Party’s10th District chair. “These are undeniably partisan maps indicating a clearly biased attempt to protect Republican candidates from having to engage in fair and competitive elections.”

Buncombe County, noted Moone, isn’t the only one the proposal slices up. “That the plan splits 15 more counties than the current maps is indicative of the not-so-subtle political gerrymandering at work here,” he charged.

Hickory, a Catawba County town of nearly 40,000 that’s historically been in the 10th District, meets a similar fate, “creating an absurdity by including a tiny fraction [of the city’s population], 84 people, in the sprawling 11th District,” Moone proclaimed.

In a joint statement, the two Republican redistricting chairs, Sen. Bob Rucho and Rep. David Lewis, said the proposal splits urban counties across the state that are “best represented by multiple members of Congress. Moreover, creating multiple districts within an urban county makes it less likely that congressional districts in 2020 will experience the significant population shifts that make the 2001 plan unbalanced.”

Compromised?

Buncombe resident Lael Gray concurred, saying her “rights as a voter have been compromised by this proposal.”

Describing herself as an independent voter who was once a Republican, Gray lambasted her former party for being “so desperate to seize power, you have now sacrificed all integrity, discarded any regard for common sense, and chosen to reveal your absolute contempt for the will of the people.

“There’s still time for you to reconsider this plan, and I urge you to do so,” she declared.

Asheville City Council member Cecil Bothwell, who plans to challenge Shuler in the 11th District Democratic primary regardless of which way the lines are drawn, said the new maps don’t accurately reflect the area’s geography and history. Mountainous Buncombe County, he argued, has no business in a Piedmont district that includes Charlotte’s suburbs.

“Carving Asheville out of the 11th District is completely irrational,” said Bothwell. “It’s been proposed by Republican legislators in Raleigh who apparently believe that the world is as flat as the maps they have drawn.” Asheville, he noted, is WNC’s economic, transportation and medical hub. “Those legislators … have forgotten that the Eastern Continental Divide separates their homes from ours.”

Garnering applause as he left the auditorium, Bothwell was stopped by Asheville resident Athena Blakely. Tears in her eyes, Blakely said her severely autistic children divide their time between her home and an alternative family living center that the new maps would place in a different district from her home. “When I pick up the phone to call a representative to advocate for my children, they’re not going to listen to me,” she fretted. “It’s going to affect my ability to effectively advocate for my children.”

Declaring electoral war on the lawmakers behind the proposal, Blakely declared that as an unaffiliated voter, she’s “their worst nightmare,” threatening to rally all her unaffiliated friends to vote out Republicans next year.

Meeting format questioned

Furious about the public hearing’s format, other local residents and officials joined Blakely in the lobby. Asheville speakers found themselves sharing air time with those at eight other locations across the state, as Republican leaders in Raleigh took turns directing the cameras to diverse sites. As a result, there was up to an hour’s wait between Asheville speakers. Three hours into the meeting, only six had been allowed to weigh in.

“For them to call this a public hearing is a travesty,” declared Kathleen Balogh, president of the nonpartisan League of Women Voters of North Carolina. “They’re hearing some people’s voices, but it really is not an opportunity for the average citizen to stand up and let the legislators know how we really feel about how the maps have been drawn. We’re not really being given an opportunity when you’re putting the whole state online at the same time.”

David Gantt, who chairs the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners, agreed, saying, “I can’t believe they’re doing it this way. It’s so messed up. … When you introduce the maps the Friday before Fourth of July, have a hearing less than a week later at 3 in the afternoon, and then have it across the state instead of each community having one separately, it just shows a total lack of interest in what people want.”

Rep. Susan Fisher sounded a similar note. Despite serving on the House Redistricting Committee, the Buncombe County Democrat revealed that she and other members were given no input into the redistricting proposal, which she said came directly from Rucho and Lewis and their staffs.

How do you spell success?

Sen. Andrew Brock, vice chair of the Senate’s Redistricting Committee, oversaw the local hearing, which he called a “pretty good success.” Everyone in attendance, he pointed out, was given a chance to speak on the record; they could also submit their statements online.

Brock and the Republican leadership found an ally in Buncombe resident William Thomas, the lone local speaker to voice support for the proposal.

“The election of 2010 gave the General Assembly the duty to do the job fairly, and they have done so,” he observed, adding that redistricting should remain in the hands of legislators rather than an independent commission, as some have proposed. “If a person is breathing, that person is partisan about many things, politics not the least of them,” Thomas argued. “Please don’t create an independent panel: Do the job that you were elected to do.”

Pictured here:  With tears in her eyes, Athena Blakely said her severely autistic children divide their time between her home and an alternative family living center that the new maps would place in a different district from her home. Cecil Bothwell (left) and Lindsey Simerly (right) listened to her tell her story. Photo by Jonathon Welch Form more photos click here.

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About Jake Frankel
Jake Frankel is an award-winning journalist who enjoys covering a wide range of topics, from politics and government to business, education and entertainment.

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10 thoughts on “Hard hearing: Residents blast redistricting proposal

  1. Athena Blakely

    Thank you Jake for covering this so well. Most funding for my children comes out of Washington. even though it is managed by the state their monies come from Washington. The support systems for my kids often lie in unincorporated Buncombe county because of the lower property tax rates in the county compared to the city. These are small businesses often sole proprietors that are trying to make a living for themselves. I have had reason to have to ask for assistance to get issues related to their SSI, Medicaid, and educational issues addressed at the federal level so that the people who help with them can get paid for the work they are doing. My children are predominately non-verbal. This redistricting plan will effectively silence my voice and in the process will take from my silent children the only voice they have. I am fed up with this partisan political crap. In the past I have voted for both republicans and democrats. If this goes through and I am forced to move to be in the same district with my kids I can promise that I will work tirelessly to remove every state legislator that had anything to do with or votes for this plan statewide. I have no representation in Raleigh right now because I have made several calls to Mr. Moffitt’s office over other issues and he has never returned my call.

    When Jane Whilden was my representative she called me every single time I called her. No she could not fix all my issues but at least she responded to me.

    Mr. Moffitt, you live less than 2 miles from me. You won’t call me, you won’t respond to any of my attempts to communicate with you, and now I am asking you where were you when the meeting was going on. Why were you not there? Do you really oppose this plan as has been stated in the Asheville Citizen Times? If so then why not come out in public and state that in the open forum? We had Republicans, Democrats, and Independents speaking out against this but not you. Why not?

    Will you meet with me and hear the problems I have with what the republicans are doing about this and other issues that are going to hurt my children and numerous others like them? Do you really care about the constituents of your district? I know your fellow republicans don’t care about their constituents, as is evident by this shameless attempt to divide the voting strength of Buncombe County, but do you?

    Once again I want to thank Jake and the Mountain Xpress for giving my kids a voice at the same time that the NC General Assembly would silence them by taking from me any representative that will care what I say.

  2. artart

    There are some of us, who are not acting hysterical, that actually like and support the redistricting plan.

  3. Jake

    Thank you, Ms Blakely, for sharing your perspective on the redistricting proposal. I hope state legislators read and can understand your story, because it offers a good example of the sorts of serious hardship the proposed redistricting would create. I applaud your hard work, and sympathize with the profound concerns you have for your children and their future.

    Sen. Ruchow, Rep. Lewis and their supporters have made it abundantly clear that the people of North Carolina do not matter to them. What does matter to them is power and the ability to aggrandise themselves. It is a shame, but here it is a demonstrated fact.

    I also note that I do not detect even a hint of hysteria in either Mr. Frankel’s story or Ms Blakely’s post. So, artart, please point it out for me. And while you’re at it, please consider describing just how the redistricting plan that you “actually like and support” helps North Carolina generally, and western NC in particular, because I really don’t see it.

  4. Spydyee

    To artart: Being emotional over the horrible impact on the human beings in this area including the huge number of people serviced at the Black Mountain Center whose families live in the 11th district and whose loved ones at the Black Mountain Center will now be in the 10th district while they remain in the 11th district (the reverse of my issue where I am in the 10th and my kids’ service providers are in the 11th) is not a crime nor is it hysteria. The fact that I am human enough to cry for the loss these silent people are going to experience does not make my voice any less legitimate. Maybe if the legislators in Raleigh had the capacity to cry then they would have the heart to not silence the voices of the “least of these” our fellow citizens. Compassion and emotion do not equate to hysteria.

  5. Josh

    Republicans are eating this great state/nation like a cancer that feeds on ignorance & fear… vote em out! They can do their “thing” in the crazy-house with the other fruit-loops.

  6. Artart, wonder what your interests are if you think they are best tied to the Piedmont, to Gastonia, and—via McHenry’s major donors—to Charlotte and Wall Street.

    The idea that Asheville will be best represented in Congress by a majority of voters outside our watershed, outside our commercial corridor, outside our Interstate nexus, outside our tourism region, outside our local farm network, outside of our traditional links to the Cherokee, outside the Land of Sky Regional Council, outside of Advantage West, outside of the Asheville Area Chamber of Commerce region … gotta say, I really don’t get it.

    If you somehow imagine that Asheville is not intrinsic to WNC’s economy and society, you simply haven’t been paying attention.

  7. artart

    First, Jake the hysteria I refer to is the general hysteria that has been expressed by various Liberal/Progressive/Democrat persons in various other stories that have thus far addressed this issue. Second, since I hold perceptions that, generally, liberal/progressive agenda items are often basically at odds with what I see as good common sense, the concept of limited government, fiscally responsibility, rewarding good behavior and punishing bad behavior> Since I also see those agendas often telling me what I have to do that is best for some other people’s idea of what is right, I fully reject most of those agenda items. Not that Republicans have any real good solutions and they are also not free from lots of criticism, but as the direction the current administration has taken the country, anything to stop more liberal/progressive democrats from planting themselves in Washington, is, in my opinion, good for the entire country. If a byproduct of any redistricting plan keeps more liberals out of Washington, I support it. So I hope I answered your questions and be aware that I am really not interested in engaging in a debate about who is right or who is wrong, since the liberal/progressive agenda is in almost total opposition to the limited government agenda, there is really no right or wrong, only person’s opinions as to what is best. It is a shame that Ms. Blakely thinks she will be negatively impacted by the proposed redistricting, but any changes affect some positively and some negatively. I hope she can work her personal issues around the redistricting so the impact is minimal.

  8. Hank Kennison

    Quite amusing to see our local progressives still missing the point that they have lost big time. Big time. Obama is a dismal failure, and all liberals downstream are sunk. The folks are angry. And they haven’t finished yet. Wait until 2012. Liberals will be lucky to get one of the seven county commissioners. The rest will be local conservatives from out in the rural parts of Buncombe County.Liberalism is dead for at least 20 years to come. Nationally and locally.

  9. bill smith

    It’s noteworthy that the only defense anyone here seems to be able to muster for this redistricting is a stammering ‘bu bu bu the Democrats did it [i]fiiiirst[/i]’.

  10. Artart, your comments would carry more weight if they bore any relationship to fact. Historically government and the debt have grown more during Republican administrations than Democratic ones. The federal government has shrunk under Obama and is the smallest per capita bureaucracy we’ve had since 1962, the smallest absolute number in decades.

    Hank, Obama’s failure has been to move too slowly when he had majorities in both houses. The Republicans’ only goal is to ensure his defeat and they are determined to wreck the economy and keep unemployment as high as possible through Nov. 2012. If I were you, I wouldn’t count my chickens too early. The people of this country are angry with both national parties and there is very serious change brewing. Madison does not exist in isolation, and the populism that fueled the Tea Party is deep and widespread. As those putatively conservative voters come to understand that the Koch brothers (et al) don’t have their best interests at heart, there will be a right-left coalition that will turn over tables nationwide.

    During the Great Depression an army of the poor, the hungry, the unemployed was advancing on Washington from the mid-west. There was well-grounded fear of a revolution, perhaps even a communist revolution. Washington shifted gears and moved to redistribute wealth, provide retirement and disability payments, ban child labor, assure unions the right to organize, and more. What we know as the New Deal. That kind of realignment can happen very fast in hard times, and what conservatives see as locked in gains made in 2010 is just the beginning of the fundamental reaction to three decades of deregulation and free trade.

    The winds of change are spinning, and a tornado is not unlikely.

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