Redistricting Committee Member Defends Legislative Involvement
Image courtesy of the Charlotte Observer. Democratic lawmakers spoke out Thursday against legislation that sets new election boundaries for commission districts in Mecklenburg, Buncombe and Guilford counties. "For the first time down here, we've decided that the leadership of the Senate can swoop in and redistrict someone's county that their representatives don't even know what's going on," said Senate Minority Leader Martin Nesbitt. The Senate approved the boundaries later in the afternoon. WFAE's Michael Tomsic reports on the controversy here. In this segment, WFAE's Lisa Miller speaks to Charlotte political consultant Larry Shaheen. He's one of the Republican members of Mecklenburg County's redistricting committee that urged state lawmakers to step in. He says the local process was going fine until a few weeks ago. That's when it was suggested that a new, fourth redistricting map go to commissioners for consideration. Shaheen: The map itself as you look at it drastically alters district 5 and district 6. It places district 6 - Mint Hill, Matthews - in the same district with Myers Park and parts of middle to south Charlotte. District 5 is completely and drastically redrawn to include parts of Ballantyne and parts of Steele Creek. Those districts are not going to accurately represent the Republican voters that reside within those districts. District 5 as it is currently drawn includes Myers Park and parts of older school Charlotte. Those areas have separate interests than those folks that live in Matthews, Mint Hill, Pineville and south Charlotte. Miller: So is your concern that there's going to be a lot more Democrats in these districts then? Shaheen: No, that's not our concern at all. Our concern is that the way the map was drawn dilutes the voices of the towns. It dilutes the voices of all the citizens in the district by placing district commonalties of interest within individual districts and forces those individual district members to actually not be able to represent the residents. Democrat, unaffiliated and Republican residing within that district - it forces them to have to speak out of both sides of their mouth. Because someone who lives off of South Blvd. in north Charlotte has a very different interest from their district representative than someone who lives in Mint Hill or Matthews. And of course there was the issue that any Republican who was elected from those districts - because these were supposed to be Republican districts - was not going to accurately reflect the actual commonalties of interest and would have a very serious conflict in representing those individual districts. Miller: Now you're a political consultant, and you've managed at least one commissioner's campaign that I know of. Is this move just good business for you? Shaheen: When I joined this commission, I wanted to make sure everyone understood that my consultant hat went away. I'm not representing my business, I'm not representing any of my clients individually in this. My only client on the commission currently is Jim Pendergraph, and he asked me to because he and I think very similarly, and because he knew that I was someone who has grown up in Mecklenburg County. I went to Providence High School. My family has been here for almost 30 years. In this issue, I did not take a front seat on this. I did not lead the way. Me being a consultant has nothing to do with the fact that this is not good for the voters in district 5 and district 6. Miller: So you've started going into this, but briefly, why don't you have confidence in the local process? Shaheen: It's not that I don't have confidence in the local process, per se. I think a lot of this was based upon the fact that we believed up until about two weeks ago that we were all in this for the interest of the citizens. And it came down by the very end that there was a lot of double talk. And it turned out that in the end the system broke down based on partisan politics. Miller: How does it make it fairer for state lawmakers then to settle the question instead of this playing out locally where the county does have a publicly vetted process for redistricting? Shaheen: Well, you got to understand something about how things are made up. The power that the county has has only been given to the county by the states. The General Assembly is the ultimate arbiter of all state power, and if the General Assembly feels that partisan politics are being played on a county level and that the county citizens as a whole are being given a disservice by individuals playing partisan games, the General Assembly has every right and has an obligation to step in and make sure that those partisan games stop, and that they have the authority and the ability to create maps that are fair and legal and accurately reflect the intent of the voters.