With state legislators opting not to vote on redistricting reform this year, local bipartisan supporters rallied in downtown Asheville Aug. 1 to start campaigning on behalf of passing the measure in 2014.
A bill was introduced in the N.C. House this year that would put the power of drawing election districts in the hands of a nonpartisan committee instead of legislators. The idea is to put an end to the kind of political gerrymandering and legal disputes that have plagued North Carolina for decades, said Madison County resident Tom Coulson, a volunteer with Common Cause who helped organize the local event.
Under the current law, the General Assembly is charged with redrawing voting districts every 10 years to keep them in line with the latest census data, empowering legislators to decide which voters they represent. That power was in the hands of Republicans for the first time in over a century after the 2010 census. And perhaps taking a lesson from how the Democrats operated for decades before them, they drew boundaries in ways that could ensure dominance for years to come.
But the proposal to reform the system has garnered bipartisan support from some members of the local delegation. Fairview Republican Rep. Nathan Ramsey joined with Asheville Democrat Rep. Susan Fisher in sponsoring the legislation.
"There are very few issues where you can work across the aisle these days, and this is a good example of one," Fisher maintained.
Ramsey added: "It's not a Republican idea, it's not a Democratic idea, it's an idea that's good for our state."
Last year, an identical bill passed the Statehouse by a wide margin, but stalled in the Senate. This year, the measure was introduced in the House, but wasn't voted on, despite support from Republican Speaker Thom Tillis.
At the Asheville rally, Henderson County Republican Rep. Chuck McGrady called the inaction "very disappointing."
"We haven't been able to get enough of our Republican colleagues to support it," he reported. However, while Democrats held the power to draw the lines, McGrady noted, members of his own party were largely in support of the change — with Democrats opposed.
"If it was good enough for my Republican colleagues to support it four years ago, hopefully it will be good enough for them to support soon," McGrady added.
On a hopeful note, McGrady noted that the next census isn't scheduled to take place for another seven years. "We have until 2020 to get across the goal line," he said.
Coulson added: "Nothing really good happens in a hurry … We're going to fight to make it law."
The sitting legislators were joined at the rally by former Buncombe County Rep. Patsy Keever and former Madison County Rep. Ray Rapp (both Democrats), who advocated for the bill while they were in office and continue to do so.
Coulson thanked all of the attendees for their support.
"We want to respect and honor legislators when they do the right thing," he noted. "We want to thank and honor them … for their hard work on this."