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Bi-weekly newsletter from the office of Representative Mary Belk.
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The first meeting of the Joint Redistricting Committee on July 26th.

Redistricting Heats Up

Last week, I was back in Raleigh for the first official meeting of the Redistricting Committee. As I’ve reported previously, the General Assembly is under court order to redraw the state district lines. The only key piece of information to come out of the subdued meeting was the announcement that the primary drafter of the previous district maps - the same ones ruled as unconstitutionally gerrymandered - would guide the leadership in redrawing the new lines. As you can see from this article from The Atlantic, I am not hopeful these new lines will be much more balanced or competitive than the current lines. 

After the meeting, I took a detour on my way home to Charlotte to attend a court hearing in Greensboro regarding the redistricting process. I was struck by the difference in tone between the meeting I had just attended and the judges who were hearing arguments in court. The Republican chairs of the Redistricting Committee had taken an almost lackadaisical approach to the meeting, with no concrete dates or deadlines set for further action. The Court made clear it did not appreciate this perceived foot-dragging. We await the Court’s decisions on a couple of key motions, but my confidence is growing that we will see some kind of concrete proposal for new district lines before the currently scheduled October timeframe.

UPDATE: The Court has ordered a September 1st deadline for redrawn district maps. It remains to be seen how seriously the Republican leadership will approach their task - will they make a good-faith attempt to draft a map with the guiding principle of “one-man, one vote”? Or will they continue to use their “legislative discretion” to skew the maps for their own political advantage? On a related note, the Court also decided not to order special elections held prior to the midterm elections in November, 2018.
Here is the current, unconstitutional NC House map drawn in 2011.

The Nuts & Bolts of Redistricting

We will focus on a number of different redistricting debates over the next month, so I’d like to highlight some of the basic terms and concepts. If there’s anything that’s not clear, or if you have questions about the various steps of the redistricting process, please feel free to contact my office and we’ll find the information you need.
 

Gerrymandering: Gerrymandering, named after Governor (1810-12) Elbridge Gerry of Massachusetts, enjoys a long and storied history under both parties in North Carolina. In brief, it is the practice of drawing voting district boundaries with an eye to protecting or disadvantaging one party, social group, or class over others in the electorate. 

Cracking: This is the first of two dominant methods of gerrymandering. Cracking refers to the practice of redrawing through a concentrated geographic group of voters who vote in one direction and ‘control’ one or two districts. This  splits them into two or three districts, adding voters from the opposing party to each new district so that they become a minority in two or three districts where were once a majority in one or two districts.

Packing: This is the other dominant method which involves drawing lines around a geographic concentration of voters such that they constitute a ‘super-majority’ in a single district, when they were previously a narrow majority in multiple districts. This creates a ‘safe seat’ for the group, but they are therefore underrepresented in the surrounding districts. 

Stacking: This is a method of diluting a working class racial or ethnic minority’s vote by combining them with an affluent population of the dominant group at near equal ‘raw’ numbers. The result is that voter turnout (which is often lower in working class communities) gives the affluent dominant community a built-in advantage. Occasionally, these districts are even touted as ‘majority-minority,’ but candidates from the affluent half of the district always seem to win.   

Stat-Pack: The truth is, unless you’ve run a statewide campaign, district lines are just squiggles on a map to most people. Stat-Packs are tables of statistics that tell you how the districts have been drawn and which groups may or may have been favored in the line drawing. A basic Stat-Pack will tell you the ‘raw’ populations of the districts, the total registered voter population, the percent of voters affiliated with each political party or unaffiliated, and the racial demographic data for the district populations.

A good stat pack will include a ‘what if’ look at one or more previous elections that estimates vote percentage totals if the new district lines had been in effect at the time. If you’re lucky, you’ll see a ‘relative performance’ number that uses basic assumptions about unaffiliated voters to estimate the outcome of a ‘generic’ ballot in that district (D+2 indicates a generic Democrat would lead by 2 percent, given average voting patterns).

County Groups: This is currently a hot topic in the redistricting process. The NC Constitution requires the populations of House and Senate districts to be roughly equal, and for counties to be kept whole as much as possible. There is, however, a large spread of population between the 100 counties in North Carolina. The legislature has mandated the basic steps of drawing “County Groups,” but this is also the first place where legislative discretion is introduced into the process. 

First, any county with a population large enough to support two or more districts becomes its own “Group,” with multiple districts divided inside that individual county’s boundaries. Next, any county where the population is within about 5% of the ‘ideal population’ for a single district becomes a “Single County Group.” Finally, for adjoining counties with populations that would add up to one or three districts, they increase the numbers of counties in the Groups as necessary to reach a population number that can be evenly divided into districts. As you can imagine, the map of Groups can look different depending on the choices made in this process.

 

If you’re looking for a more in-depth look at redistricting from a national perspective, I encourage you to read this white paper published by the ACLU in 2010. For a more in depth look at gerrymandering practices, this presentation from the Southern Coalition for Social Justice is informative.  If you're ready to help, visit the League of Women Voters, a nonpartisan organization that is heavily involved in the fight against gerrymandering.
Drawing compact districts without considering party, race, or incumbent residence could dramatically alter the map's shape. 

Non-Partisan Redistricting:
Painful but Necessary

The fact is that partisan politicians of either party should not be responsible for drawing district lines that will influence and, in many cases, determine their own re-election races. The temptation to hold on to power at all costs and the stakes for the future of our State are too great. I’d sure like to change the tune around here, so I wholeheartedly support nonpartisan independent redistricting, even if it means I may ultimately lose my seat. I pledge to continue to support it as long as I represent the citizens of North Carolina.

The truth is that our current maps are so badly gerrymandered, under new maps Democrats are just as likely to get “double-bunked” (where two existing legislators from the same party live in the same new district, forcing a new primary contest) as Republicans are likely to have smaller majorities. Recently, Common Cause NC released the sample map shown above that was drawn using an algorithm, rather than legislative discretion. It suggests combining our District 88 with other districts such that two incumbent Democratic legislators and one incumbent Republican would all live in the new district. That may result in tougher reelection prospects for me, but a much more politically impartial and ethical system for the people of North Carolina. You can download the nonpartisan map simulations HERE.

I’ve spoken to every new member of my Freshman class in the General Assembly, up and coming Democratic leaders in the House and Senate, and the current Minority Leader of the House on this issue. Each and every one of them is fully committed to the implementation of nonpartisan independent redistricting.


To see a complete list of the bills that I have sponsored or cosponsored, please visit my NCGA ‘Introduced Bills’ page.
Democratic and Republican incumbents in Mecklenburg could see big changes in their districts with a switch to non-partisan redistricting.

The Best Part of My Job

My most fulfilling moments as a state legislator are when I’m able to help people in a meaningful way. A few weeks ago, my office received a call from a woman named Amanda. She had recently connected with her biological father and needed help. 

His life had taken some bad turns and he had made choices that put him in jail. He also suffered from a chronic condition that had recently become terminal. As his caregivers were ready to remove life support, Amanda had managed to gather his family at the hospital to say goodbye. Because he was still a prisoner and under guard, however, they could only visit with him for one hour. 

Through my work on the Justice and Public Safety Appropriations Subcommittee, I was able to reach the Department of Public Safety and explain Amanda’s story. They agreed that it was a reasonable request and communicated with the administration of Central Prison, which oversees all prisoners undergoing off-site medical care. When the time came for Amanda’s father to come off the life support machines, she and her biological half-siblings were able to be in the room until he passed peacefully in bed. She said they sang and laughed and cried in turn, celebrating their strengthened bonds as a family.

It felt good to reach out and make our government work a little better for that family. I’ve already opened a discussion with the Department of Public Safety about hospice care policies and procedures in prison. As our prison population ages, families shouldn’t have to negotiate for those last precious moments.
Thank you to the Black Women's Political Caucus of Mecklenburg County for inviting Sheryl Underwood to the annual Blackberry Brunch this past weekend. Reps. Carney, Cunningham and I laughed until we nearly cried!

Your County and Your Government

The next 25 year Metropolitan Transportation Plan for the Charlotte Regional Transportation Planning Organization (CRTPO) is being finalized and the public comment period ends on August 3, 2017. There is still time to review the projects under consideration and let them know your priorities. Here is a handy interactive map to collect comments directly from the web.

The CRTPO encompasses Iredell, Mecklenburg, and the western half of Union Counties, so if you commute any distance to work, you will be impacted by the decisions this group makes. You can learn more about their mission and organization on the 2045 Metropolitan Transportation Plan web site, and you can find details on proposed projects with maps and projected costs HERE.       
 
Charlotte 311 is your connection to city services, including Animal Control, Street Maintenance, Bulky Trash Pick-up, Parking Enforcement, and all other non-police related matters. Dial 311 or visit their website to fill out a form and have your issue addressed as soon as possible.        
 
Don’t forget! Visit NCCash.com today to see if you have unclaimed property under the supervision of the NC Treasurer’s office. A constituent, Suzanne, found out NC was holding $300 dollars in her name, and they informed her New York had another $3000 due to some housing issues she’d experienced decades ago. No guarantees you’ll be so lucky, but it’s worth checking out!

Did You Know? You can request free mulch from the city’s yard waste recycling program! Fill out THIS FORM on the Landscape Management website to request your delivery.

My office is here to help you navigate any issues you may have with state services. Please call myself or my legislative assistant, Ralph Belk, at 919-733-5607 or email me at mary.belk@ncleg.net with any questions or concerns
.

In the News

GOP Map Maker Behind NC's Illegal Districts Will Help Redraw The Map
WFAE

Burr: If I'd told judges, they would have fought redistricting
WRAL

With more sessions to come, does NC still have a part-time legislature?
Charlotte Observer

Judge won’t dismiss lawsuit accusing NC lieutenant governor and legislators of holding illegal session
News & Observer
 
Cooper vetoes controversial bill that could force community newspapers out of business
News & Record
 
Editorial:  Wade uses her power to settle scores (again). Maybe she'll be foiled (again)
News & Record
 
Hurricane aid, zip line insurance bills signed by Cooper
WLOS
 
Gov. Cooper continues battle against opioid epidemic
WSOC
 
Editorial: Rural hospital in bankruptcy; legislators won't expand Medicaid
Capital Broadcasting Company
 
Driver handbook to add traffic stop section
Rocky Mount Telegram
 
Gov. Cooper urges EPA to set limits for GENX
WWAY
 
AG calls Republican budget cuts 'political spite'
WRAL
 
Hearings postponed on Duke Energy's 15 percent rate hike
News & Record

Cooper signs bills protecting National Guard members
ABC 11
 
This NC community is getting state money for its downtown. But where is downtown?
The News & Observer
 
Budget cuts legal aid for poor, but no explanation given
WRAL
 
Customers to pay higher Duke Energy bills due to coal ash cleanup
WSOC
 
GenX: When An Investigation, Is An Investigation
HQR
 
Editorial:  Cooper brings needed firepower to GenX response
Wilmington Star-News
 
Editorial:  Change in credit property insurance would exploit NC borrowers
The News & Observer
 
State to save money on retiree health plan renegotiation
WRAL
UNCC Graduates Mary Belk & Linda Hunt Williams
Copyright © 2017 Representative Mary Belk, All rights reserved.


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