Lawmakers Set to Introduce Bipartisan Redistricting Reform

A plan for redistricting in North Carolina is once again being put forward by state lawmakers.

A bipartisan group of legislators, from the House and Senate, held a press conference at noon on Tuesday. The purpose was to put forward a proposal to change how voting maps are drawn in the Tar Heel state.

The debate over redistricting in North Carolina has raged on for more than a century. For years Democrats controlled the state legislature, and they drew maps that were favorable to the election of more Democrats. And that was deemed legal by the court system.

During that time, Republicans, and some Democrats, repeatedly called for lawmakers to conceive of a more fair system for how the maps are drawn. Now that Republicans are in control of the state House and Senate, the roles have reversed.

But long-time Republican House Representative Skip Stam says he will introduce a bill that calls for an independent commission to draw the voting maps in the state.

“The idea is that, in constructing districts, the people with the most at stake,” he says, “are probably ones who shouldn’t be doing the details.”

Stam’s proposal would be enacted before the next maps are drawn in 2021.

Stam says an opportunity has presented itself that may be the best chance for the bill to actually pass into law, because there is no pending litigation regarding the current maps.

Republican Representative Charlie Jeter says he and Democratic Senator Jeff Jackson will also be introducing a bill concerning redistricting.

“Our bill won’t go into effect until after the 2030 election cycle, in large part because it grandfathers everyone out,” he says. “To some degree, I think this is about getting the bill passed.”

Democratic Representative Grier Martin says his district, because it is heavily Democratic, is a prime example of what is causing some voters to stay home from the polls.

Martin adds passing a bipartisan redistricting bill would be a big step toward restoring North Carolinians faith in the state government.

Republican Representative John Hardister echoes the sentiment of many conservative leaders at the press conference, saying gerrymandering districts is bad policy – regardless of which party benefits.

“Many Republicans, including myself, advocated for redistricting reform when Democrats were in the majority,” he says. “It was the right thing to do then, and it’s still the right thing to do today.”

John Hood, with the conservative Pope Foundation, says the policy should move forward because it benefits the residents of North Carolina.

“It’s important for all of us in North Carolina to get the policy right,” he says. “I’m sure that redistricting reformers would welcome additional alternatives; as long as they were consistent with the principal that neutral rules should be our tactic, and competitive elections should be our end.”

Voters were the topic of conversation as well for Chris Fitzsimon of the progressive organization NC Policy Watch.

“This is not all the complicated,” he says. “The idea is to create a system where voters choose their politicians, instead of the other way around.”

Even with the bipartisan backing of this bill, it is not set in stone that it will move forward. Republican Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger has previously said he would not consider the legislation while litigation was ongoing.

Mitch Kokai is the Director of Communication for the conservative John Locke Foundation, and he says – even though the litigation has reached a conclusion – there is no guarantee Senator Berger will bring the legislation before the Senate, regardless of what the House does.

“[Berger] hasn’t come out and said ‘heck no, we’re never going to do it,’” Kokai says. “But he also hasn’t come out and said ‘oh yes, we’re going to go along with this now.’”

Ellie Kinnaird represented Orange and Chatham Counties in the North Carolina Senate, as a Democrat, from 1997 – 2013, and she recalls trying to pass a redistricting campaign when her fellow Democrats were in control of the House and Senate.

“I introduced a bill, under the Democrats, for an independent redistricting campaign,” she says. “They thought they were going to be in power forever, why would they do it? I introduced it under the Republicans, and the same thing happened.

“So, I’m very encouraged that the House, last term, actually did pass an independent redistricting bill. But I’m afraid that Mr. Berger will never relent in the Senate. He will not let that go through.”

Kinnaird adds, as long as large donors are allowed to bring about campaigns similar to what North Carolinians saw with the US Senate race between Thom Tillis and Kay Hagan, she is not expecting anything to change.

“The money is going to be crucial,” she says. “As the money pours in, it just solidifies the system.

“I don’t see any hope for the near future for North Carolina. I think that, frankly, it’s going to take 49 states enacting it before we enact it.”

The next North Carolina voting maps will be drawn in 2021, following the 2020 census. Whether they will be drawn with a partisan pen or through the eyes of an independent committee remains to be seen.

WCHL has requested a statement from Senator Phil Berger following the press conference but have not received a response at this time.

Senate Leader Says Cooper Should Defend Amendment

RALEIGH — State Senate leader Phil Berger says Attorney General Roy Cooper should defend North Carolina’s same sex marriage ban in the wake of a federal appeals court ruling striking down Virginia’s law.

The Rockingham Republican said after the Senate session on Monday that Cooper should stand up for the people of North Carolina and uphold its constitution.

More than 60 percent of voters approved the amendment in 2012.

Cooper said at a news conference earlier in the day that his office would not defend the state’s ban on same sex marriage, saying the ruling by the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Virginia, made it highly likely North Carolina’s ban will be overturned.

North Carolina is part of the 4th Circuit.

McCrory Threatens Senate Budget Veto

RALEIGH – Gov. Pat McCrory says he’d veto any North Carolina budget plan on his desk that raises teacher pay dramatically like the Senate wants because it would mean huge cuts elsewhere to pay for it.

McCrory told The Associated Press in an interview Thursday he’s not going to risk key government services and allow Medicaid reductions to accept the Senate’s average 11 percent pay offer. The original Senate proposal cut funding for thousands of teacher assistants to pay for it.

Senate Leader Phil Berger (R-Rockingham) issued the following statement Thursday:

“I’m disappointed by the governor’s threat to veto the largest teacher pay raise in state history and surprised by his demand for a budget without cuts to teacher assistants and Medicaid – given that his own budget included almost $20 million in cuts to teacher assistants along with significant, though ultimately achievable, cuts to Medicaid.

“The governor has been unable to sustain any of his previous vetoes in the Senate. It would be more helpful for him to work with members of both chambers of the legislature, since his unwillingness to listen to those who have an honest disagreement with him on spending priorities in favor of staging media stunts and budget gimmicks is a major reason the budget has not been finalized.”

The governor is siding with the latest House offer to raises teacher pay on average by 6 percent, up from 5 percent. He says 6 percent is about as far as he can go and feel comfortable.

The two chambers are negotiating budget adjustment for the year that started July 1.

Gov. McCrory Announces Raise For Incoming Teachers

JAMESTOWN, NC – Governor Pat McCrory and other state leaders announced a plan Monday morning to increase starting teachers’ salaries nearly 14 percent in the next two years, but no immediate increase was mentioned for teaching professionals already in place.

This year, starting teacher pay will increase $2,200 to $33,000; next year an additional $2,000 will be added taking salaries to $35,000.

Supplemental pay for teachers who completed their coursework for their Master’s degrees has been extended up until July 1, 2013 as well.

However, there was no discussion of raising teachers’ salaries for those who are just getting their start.

The announcement to raise incoming teachers’ salaries $4,200 in the next two years was made at Gov. McCrory’s former high school, Ragsdale, with Lt. Gov. Dan Forest, Senate Leader Phil Berger, and House Speaker Thom Tillis in attendance.

Local Representatives Criticize State Budget

CHAPEL HILL – Over the weekend, your state’s House and Senate leaders met to reconcile the differences between their two budget proposals. Now with a settled budget that both House Speaker Thom Tillis and Senate leader Phil Berger seem happy about, passage looks likely.

But Representative Verla Insko, who represents OrangeCounty in the General Assembly, says she opposes the new budget and feels its cuts will end up costing North Carolinians more in the future.

“I just disagree with the philosophy of austerity during a recession,” Insko says. “I think stimulus makes a lot more sense.”

Among the items in the budget are a reduction in sales tax-free periods and cuts to the estate tax, corporate tax and a new income tax that would put all citizens, regardless of income level, at the same tax rate.

“There’s very little evidence, some would say no evidence, that cutting taxes for the wealthiest people actually produces any new jobs,” Insko says. “What produces new jobs is having the middle class have enough money to be able to purchase goods and services.”

State Senator Ellie Kinnaird also opposes the budget, criticizing its cuts to public sector employees.

“There’s a particularly sensitive group, the Highway Patrol, that had been promised over the years that they would have a certain percentage of pay raise every year no matter what,” Kinnaird says. “And they’ve just gone back on that.”

Insko especially criticizes cuts to child and adult service programs, namely those that deal with mental health care. She says she feels these cuts are not only unnecessary, but that it cuts more than it lets on.

“There’s a hidden $20 million cut to mental health in this budget because last year, they made a $20 million appropriation non-recurring and they didn’t fund that this year, so there’s really a $35 million cut to mental health,” Insko says.

While the state budget gives additional funding to voucher programs to help low-income families pay for private or charters schools, it also eliminates teacher tenure. Insko says that tenure should have been “tinkered with,” but not done away with altogether.

“Teachers don’t make a whole lot anyway, and job security was one of the things that allowed us to keep people who could make a lot more money in another job,” Insko says.

Kinnaird even speaks out against the funding for vouchers and says they are part of a larger goal in the state’s budget.

“Because they’ve instituted a voucher plan for private schools, that reduces the average daily funds going to the public schools,” Kinnaird says. “It’s a concerted effort to really, I think, destroy our public schools.”

While Kinnaird says that she was surprised by the “boldness” of the General Assembly’s budget, she says the individual provisions themselves were all expected.

“We’ve known, right at the beginning, what they were going to target,” Kinnaird says. “There’s nothing there that’s a surprise to me.”

Insko and Kinnaird did add that they were happy to see compensation for victims of the state’s eugenics program. Insko was one of the co-sponsors of legislation in the House to authorize compensation for the victims.

Berger Still Not Ready To Decide On US Senate Bid

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) – The Republican leader of the North Carolina state Senate says he should make a decision by the end of July about whether to enter the race to try to unseat Democratic U.S. Senator Kay Hagan.

Senator Phil Berger told reporters Tuesday about his potential timetable. The Eden attorney has been weighing a bid for several months. His counterpart in the House – Speaker Thom Tillis – already announced in May he would seek the Republican primary nomination.

Berger confirmed he spoke Tuesday morning with representatives of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, which recruits candidates and usually gives financial support to primary victors.

Physician Greg Brannon of Cary is running in the GOP primary. The Rev. Mark Harris of Charlotte is considering getting in as well.

NC Senate Delays Final Vote On Tax Overhaul

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) – The North Carolina Senate has delayed a final vote on a tax overhaul plan to discuss changes with House members and Gov. Pat McCrory.

Senate Leader Phil Bergerof Eden said Tuesday a scheduled final vote was being put off for talks with McCrory and the House, which already passed its own proposal. The Senate’s plan tentatively passed last week. Berger said the proposal will be scheduled for action Wednesday.

The Senate plan cuts taxes by billions through a gradual repeal of corporate taxes and lower income tax rates. Proponents say it will boost the economy.

Critics have said it is not true tax reform because it doesn’t make major changes to the sales tax code. Others say it will severely hurt state and local public services.

Lottery and Drones Bring Bipartisan Divisiveness

Are you tired of the partisan divisiveness that is poisoning the political environment of our state and nation?

Do you wish that the politicians from the two parties would work together more often on issues of common concern?

Me too.

Maybe we are getting what we wished for, thanks to the North Carolina lottery and our country’s use of unmanned drone aircraft to target and kill our enemies throughout the world.

Welcome to the world of bipartisan divisiveness?

You might get tired of this form of divisiveness, too.

The legislature, then controlled by Democrats, established the state lottery at the urging of Democratic Governor Mike Easley, whose pro-lottery positions were major campaign planks.

It was a popular issue for the governor, too. Schools needed the money. People wanted to play the games and were going across state lines to buy lottery tickets. A lottery would be a voluntary tax. Free money. 

Most Republicans opposed the lottery’s establishment. So did lots of Democrats. Liberal Democrats agreed with libertarian Republicans that running a gambling business is not a proper function of government.

Government, they said, should encourage its citizens to work and save for their future, not on fostering dreams of getting rich by winning the lottery. Certainly, they continued, government should not stoop to the low level of a carnival barker selling chances on games in which the odds of winning are stacked against the player.

Some lottery opponents argued that having state officials deal with the gaming industry would have special pitfalls. Don’t expect to lie down with dogs and not come up with fleas, they warned.

Today, the lottery is an established part of state government, and there have been fewer fleabites than expected.

But, with Republicans now in charge of state government, they could ditch the lottery.

Will they?

Governor Pat McCrory recommends only a first step, suggesting that the state “reallocate a portion of money away from the bloated and frankly annoying advertising and the large administration costs of the lottery commission.”

Senate Republican Leader Phil Berger and one-time vigorous lottery opponent Representative Paul Stam are not pushing for lottery repeal, only reducing advertising and administrative expenses and fees.

Even these modest proposals have put the lottery back in play. Some Democrats will join Republicans to cut the lottery’s wings. And some Republicans will vote with Democrats to maintain or enhance the lottery’s profits.

More lottery divisiveness, but it is bipartisan divisiveness.

Similarly the bitter partisan divisions in Washington collapsed for a moment last week after Senator Rand Paul filibustered the nomination of John Brennan to be director of the Central Intelligence Agency. Paul used his speaking time to call for accountability and clear policy for the use of drone aircraft for targeted killings. Specifically, Paul demanded to know whether the U.S. president has the authority to direct the killing of some presumed enemy within the United States.

Republican Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham denounced Paul for trying to tie the president’s hands in the fight against worldwide terrorism. Meanwhile, liberals like Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson supported Paul. Robinson wrote, “The way we use drones as killing machines has to be consistent with our freedoms and our values. For grabbing us by the lapels, Rand Paul deserves praise.”

How much authority should the president have to call for drone strikes against suspected enemies of the country?

The question is divisive.

Bipartisan divisive.

Enjoy it while you can.

D.G. Martin hosts “North Carolina Bookwatch.” During UNC-TV’s Festival, the program airs Thursdays at 5 p.m. on UNC-TV. For more information or to view prior programs visit the webpage at
Next week’s (Thursday, March 21 at 5 p.m.) guest is Terry Roberts, author of “A Short Time to Stay Here.” (Note the Sunday airing will be preempted by UNC-TV’s Festival programming). The program will also air at Wednesday March 20 at 11 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. on UNC-MX, a digital cable system channel (Time Warner #172 or #4.4). In addition, airing at 11:30 Wednesday on UNC-MX will be a classic Bookwatch program featuring Haven Kimmel author of The Solace of Leaving Early.
A grant from the North Carolina Humanities Council provides crucial support for North Carolina Bookwatch.
More about Terry Roberts:
Madison County, north of Asheville and up along the Tennessee border, has been the location of two novels featured recently on Bookwatch: Ron Rash’s “The Cove” and Wiley Cash’s “A Land More Kind than Home.” Now there is a third fine Madison County novel. Terry Roberts’ “A Short Time to Stay Here” is a story of World War I and more than 2,000 Germans interned in a resort hotel in Hot Springs. It is a story of love, killing and conflict of different cultures that come together in explosive and surprising fashion.