As we move into 2012, I’m betting that we will see several really significant examples of the old political truth, “elections have consequences.” Intuitively, we know that every election produces winners and losers, but it’s not the individual outcomes that I’m thinking about, but the cumulative impact of the elections. One example is when the elections produces such a significant change in the make-up of a legislative body that the ramifications a felt for years to come.
We had such an election in North Carolina in 2010 and we will soon feel a major impact of that election. When the Republican majority took control of the General Assembly in 2010, they gained the ability to redistrict North Carolina based on the 2010 U.S. Census data. As happens every 10 years after a census, those with the power to draw the new lines for federal and state districts try to ensure that the new lines provide a political advantage for their party, and that advantage can last for years.
Our community will certainly see the effects of the new lines in several major ways. First, if there is a successful legal challenge to the lines, then we might see the spring primary dates pushed back. The General Assembly voted to put the constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage on the primary ballot. So whatever the date of the primary, we know a lot of energy and money will be behind both sides of the issue, trying to encourage people to vote in what is usually a low-turnout election. More or fewer primary voters can then possibly alter the outcome of the party primaries just because who decides to vote.
Second, if the lines are upheld by the court, we will see new congressional districts that may alter who runs in November in our 4th District. Under the proposed lines, the primary might see Rep. David Price, our current Congressman, facing Rep. Brad Miller who currently serves the 13th District. Of course, it’s no accident that the two Democrats were drawn into the same district. Some pundits believe that the new lines could shift the North Carolina delegation from the current 7-6 split favoring the Democrats to something much more favorable to the Republicans.
Third, new lines will also impact the state senate and house races because the way that they a currently drawn, “double bunking” of those currently serving means that those people are in a zero sum game; both cannot win the party primary. In the senate, there four intraparty cases, one being Democratic Sens. Ellie Kinnaird (D-Orange) and Bob Atwater (D-Chatham), and there are two interparty cases. As the North Carolina Free Enterprise Foundation notes, the situation in our state is complex:
When examining double-bunkings in the N.C. Senate, it’s important to note that just because two Republicans have been drawn together in one district, that does not necessarily mean the GOP is losing seats in the chamber. Redistricting is required to ensure North Carolina’s population has equal representation. As the demographics of the state shift, districts based in rural locations around the state are becoming geographically larger and those areas are losing relative representation. In some regions of the state, Republicans hold those rural districts, making it difficult to avoid double-bunking among the majority party. However, just as districts in some parts of the state are forced to expand in order to meet population requirements, other districts are being added in urban and suburban areas that don’t contain incumbent members of the General Assembly.
In the N.C. House there are five double-bunkings involving just Republican incumbents, six with just Democratic incumbents, and three cases where a Republican and Democratic incumbent are drawn into the same district. Consequently, 15 Democrats and 13 Republicans have been combined in the same district lines as one of their House colleagues. The one that has a major impact on our community is District 56, where former Speaker Democrat Joe Hackney would face his party colleague Verla Insko in the primary if both ran for reelection in District 56.
So yes, elections have consequences and in our local community, we could see a major change in who represents us in Washington and Raleigh, not to mention a revised election calendar in the spring. Some be fine with this, but is this the fair way to operate? The courts will rule on the lines and that will answer that part of the question, and maybe the voters might shift the political alignment again in the next election.
But for all of those who stayed home in 2010, for all of those who believed that their vote didn’t matter, and for all of those who don’t think it’s worth their time to follow politics, you let others make the decisions. As the drama unfolds, remember, being a participant or not, elections do have consequences.