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Opinion
Each Monday, Tommy Tomlinson delivers thoughtful commentary on an important topic in the news. Through these perspectives, he seeks to find common ground that leads to deeper understanding of complex issues and that helps people relate to what others are feeling, even if they don’t agree.

If redistricting were hoops, the NC GOP would have fouled out by now

This is basketball country. So let’s talk about the redistricting mess in North Carolina the way a coach might draw it up on one of those whiteboards in the locker room.

The Republicans have spent the past couple of years trying to nail a sheet of plywood over the Democrats’ basket. Meanwhile, the Republicans have been lowering their own basket until it’s three feet off the ground.

Not surprisingly, a series of referees have said this is unfair.

The state legislature passed yet another new set of maps Thursday, covering North Carolina’s congressional districts as well as districts for the state House and Senate. Now a panel of three former judges, called “special masters,” will review them. They’re sort of like the NBA’s replay booth in New York.

The panel’s review comes after the North Carolina Supreme Court ruled that the GOP-drawn maps violate the state constitution. That overturned a lower court’s ruling that the mapmaking process wasn’t the judiciary’s business.

The reason these maps have bounced around the courts for years is simple: Republicans in the state legislature keep trying to paint the state a redder shade than it really is.

Republicans have generally had the edge in federal races. But in 2020, North Carolina voted for Trump over Biden by 1 percentage point. We have a Democrat governor and Republican senators. If we’re not purple, we’re at least a nice shade of fuchsia.

But the GOP maps, over and over, have given Republicans a likely margin of something like 10 seats to 4 in the House. The latest maps look to be a little more fair, but there’s still a better chance for the Republicans to end up with the majority. Purely as a matter of geometry, it’s impressive.

Margins matter. That state Supreme Court ruling that the maps were unconstitutional? It was a 4-3 decision, with the Democrats voting yes and the Republicans voting no. Those close margins ought to be the natural outcomes in our state because we’re relatively even politically.

Parties in power try to maximize their power. That’s the oldest rule in politics. But the GOP, in this case, keeps flinging faulty maps against the wall for one reason. To go back to basketball lingo: It’s about recruiting.

Our state, like most of America, is becoming less white. Black voters, Latino voters, immigrants, young folks — they’re all becoming more powerful year after year. They tend to vote Democratic. It doesn’t have to be that way. But Republicans, by and large, have chosen to focus their attention on various forms of white grievance. And by doing so they repel a lot of voters who could help them down the road. If they’re not willing to recruit different players, the only move they have left is to rig the game.

If you watch basketball, you know there’s no more frustrating game to watch than one where the refs keep calling fouls. That’s what watching this case has been like. Then again, there’s always one remedy for a game with a lot of fouls. Quit fouling.

Tommy Tomlinson’s On My Mind column runs Mondays on WFAE and WFAE.org. It represents his opinion, not the opinion of WFAE. You can respond to this column in the comments section at wfae.org. You can also email Tommy at ttomlinson@wfae.org.

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