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The Party Line is dedicated to examining regional issues and policies through the figures who give shape to them. These are critical, complex, and even downright confusing times we live in. There’s a lot to navigate nationally and in the Carolinas; whether it’s elections, debates on gay marriage, public school closings, or tax incentives for economic development. The Party Line’s goal is to offer a provocative, intelligent look at the issues and players behind the action; a view that ultimately offers the necessary insight for Carolina voters to hold public servants more accountable.

GOP Lawmakers Evoke Controversy In Raleigh, But Go Home To Safe Districts

­With several months of Moral Monday protests under way, the North Carolina General Assembly may be feeling the heat of the dog days of summer, especially in terms of public opinion.

In a recent survey of 600 North Carolina voters by Public Policy Polling, the state legislature’s approval is down to 20 percent.  Not surprisingly, 69 percent of Democrats disapprove of the General Assembly, while Republicans are almost evenly split: 37 percent approve, 33% disapprove, and 30 percent aren’t sure. 

Only 19 percent of Independent voters gave their approval, with 64 percent disapproving.

And while the General Assembly is in the “long session” of its two-year term in office, some believe that the GOP’s stamp on the state may come back to harm the ruling party.

The Decline of North Carolina” editorial in the New York Times, along with other articles trumpeting the swing in the state’s political landscape, has given some on the left hope of recapturing some slice of state legislative power in 2014, believing that the majority GOP has overplayed their hands.

But with a recent upholding of the Republican-drawn redistricting maps by two Democrats and one Republican state judge, the sense of optimism may have to be tempered with the sense of electoral realism.

There is always speculation that partisan redrawing of legislative districts amounts to keeping the party in power, and while having the power to redraw the rules of the game is certainly influential, one has to look deeper than just the lines to determine who the real winners are.

For some observers, North Carolina has always been a state of mixed personalities, where progressive/liberal attributes, moderate/pragmatic characteristics, and socially conservative influences all reside.

What the GOP was able to do with the 2011 redistricting was to isolate the progressive/liberal areas of the state and sufficiently capture the moderate/pragmatic areas so that, in combination with socially conservative areas, the Republicans put together an insurance policy going into the future.

If one was to divide the state’s 100 counties into three distinct categories—urban, suburban, and rural, based on the U.S. Census definition of metropolitan areas—you would find the post-2012 legislative Democrats isolated into one area, but sufficiently gutted in the other two to hamper their climb back into power.

NC House of Representatives: Party Control of Districts post-2012 Election

In the state House of Representatives, 63 percent of Democrats are from urban counties; Most of the 35 percent of Democrats who come from rural areas are from majority-minority counties in the southeast and northeast border counties.

Only one Democratic representative comes from a predominately suburban district.

In comparison, members of the GOP House caucus are divided between the three types of counties: 31 percent urban, 22 percent suburban, and 47 percent rural.  

NC Senate: Party Control of Districts post-2012 Election

In the upper-chamber, senate Democrats have 65 percent of their caucus from urban counties, while 6 percent (one senator) is from a suburban county, and 29 percent is from rural counties.

Conversely, GOP senators are much more rural-oriented, with 58 percent of their members from rural counties while 27 percent are from urban counties and 15 percent are from suburban counties. 

In both chambers, with the exception of rural counties that are typically majority-minority, the GOP has truly captured and solidified their hold on rural counties.  All they needed to do then was swing the suburban counties to their favor, especially in areas where they could sacrifice urban districts to the Democrats, but leave the surrounding suburbs for themselves.

Take, for example, Mecklenburg Country, where the traditional Democratic dominance of Charlotte houses five Democrats, but where the outlying suburban areas and traditional Republican areas of south Charlotte are pure red. 

With the legislative session rapidly coming to an end, most legislators are ready to escape the heated rhetoric of the General Assembly. The nice thing about ending the session soon is that most legislators can flee back to safe districts.

Dr. Michael Bitzer is an associate professor of politics and history at Catawba College, where he also serves as the 2011-2012 Swink Professor for Excellence in Classroom Teaching and the chair of the department of history & politics. A native South Carolinian, he holds graduate degrees in both history and political science from Clemson University and The University of Georgiaââ