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NC Lawmakers Don't Say Much About Redistricting, But A Past Contract Does

NC General Assembly
NC congressional map approved by lawmakers in 2016 and found to be a partisan gerrymander by a three-judge panel Tuesday.

The headline of Tuesday's federal ruling is an eye-catching one: All 13 North Carolina congressional districts are illegal partisan gerrymanders. The deadline was equally eye-catching. The judges gave lawmakers just two weeks to redraw the whole map.

So did all this catch the eyes of lawmakers in Raleigh?

Not visibly. But that doesn’t mean things aren’t happening behind the scene.  

The general assembly did convene a special session Wednesday. That’s good if the state’s 2018 congressional elections are to take place as scheduled.

Elections are like trains. Any delay can have a cascading effect which throws everything off. This ruling may represent more of a derailment than a simple delay, especially given state lawmakers response so far.

Publically, little was said by Republicans about this court order. Senate Pro Tem Phil Berger was one of the few to address the order.

“So we did get a decision that, the bottom line, we disagree with. And you can expect us to request the U.S. Supreme Court to issue a stay,” said Berger.

He added a full appeal will also be filed.

Overall, Republicans seemed more concerned with nominees to state committees than reworking the state's congressional maps.

Anti-gerrymandering protesters shouted from the senate gallery. The Senate then adjourned its half of the special session until Friday.

Democrats didn’t really address the ruling either. House Minority Leader Darren Jackson laid out four priorities for this special session, including what he called a fix for the k-3 class size legislation. 

New congressional maps did not make his list.

Redistricting is supposed to be a transparent process with new maps approved only after rigorous political debate and due consideration of public comments.

The timeline here is tight. There’s two weeks to redraw and debate the new districts.

So why the silence on redistricting?

If the past is indeed prologue, there may be more happening behind the scenes. The federal ruling and a map maker’s contract show us that. When taken together, they shed light on some uncomfortable truths for Republican leaders of the general assembly.

The congressional maps ruled partisan gerrymanders by the three-judge panel were drawn in 2016 by Republican redistricting consultant Tom Hofeller. He is a controversial figure, known for using big data and mathematical modeling to draw districts highly favorable to Republican candidates. Hofeller's contract for the 2016 redistricting includes a section which states all documents, drafting and information requests to or by Hofeller "shall become public records" once his map becomes law. That may be the reason depositions show Hofeller and Republican leaders preferred to pass information verbally, either on the phone or in person.

Sworn testimony also shows this process and instruction to Hofeller on how to draw the districts began roughly one week before the redistricting committee was even officially formed.

In addition, the court found Hofeller "finished drawing the 2016 Plan before the public hearing and the opening of the window for members of the public to submit written comments.” The plan, also "did not reflect any public input."

We don’t yet know if Republicans will again hire Hofeller to help redraw North Carolina's congressional maps. Either way the depositions in this case are as eye-catching as the ruling itself because they show that, in the view of the judges, what was billed as a transparent and inclusive process was anything but.  

Tom Bullock decided to trade the khaki clad masses and traffic of Washington DC for Charlotte in 2014. Before joining WFAE, Tom spent 15 years working for NPR. Over that time he served as everything from an intern to senior producer of NPR’s Election Unit. Tom also spent five years as the senior producer of NPR’s Foreign Desk where he produced and reported from Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen, Haiti, Egypt, Libya, Lebanon among others. Tom is looking forward to finally convincing his young daughter, Charlotte, that her new hometown was not, in fact, named after her.