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Mecklenburg County Senator Argues Redistricting Makes Lawmakers 'Effectively Invulnerable'

A big crowd turned out in Charlotte and other sites around the state for a legislative hearing on new congressional district maps Feb. 15, 2016. Some speakers said they want independent redistricting.
Michael Tomsic
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A big crowd turned out in Charlotte and other sites around the state for a legislative hearing on new congressional district maps Feb. 15, 2016. Some speakers said they want independent redistricting.

As the U.S. Supreme Court works toward a ruling on how North Carolina redrew its voting districts, a state senator from Mecklenburg County is continuing his call for independent redistricting. Democratic Sen. Jeff Jackson said the current process results in almost no competitive races.

"We are effectively invulnerable," Jackson said Thursday morning on Charlotte Talks. "Ninety percent of us could endorse our opponents, could give our opponents all of our money, could participate in television debates with sock puppets - and still win. There is nothing that we could do to lose!"

Political scientists generally consider a district to be competitive if the margin between the winner and the runner-up is within 10 percent. By that measure, slightly over 90 percent of the state House and Senate districts were not competitive in last month's election, according to state Board of Elections data.

Jackson readily admits that when his party had control of the General Assembly, it ignored the same kind of request he's now making. (Jackson joined the legislature in 2014, after Democrats had lost power.) He says he chose the Republican proposal that Democrats "threw in the trash" as what he wants to pass.

Many Republican lawmakers were in favor of that proposal when they were in the minority at the General Assembly. But few if any of them now support it. Republican state House Rep. David Lewis said on Charlotte Talks the redistricting process is already fair.

"We held over 36 public hearings, " said Lewis, one of the 2011 redistricting architects. "We had the most open and transparent process ever before. We asked people to participate. We empowered the Democratic caucus to hire their own staff and draw their own maps. We provided staff and a budget even for the black caucus in the General Assembly to hire their own staff and to fully engage and participate in this process."

Lewis says the Democrats didn't participate much though, instead choosing to wait and sue.

There have been a variety of lawsuits over the 2011 redistricting plan in state and federal court. One of those cases made it to the U.S. Supreme Court for oral argument on Monday. The justices are now deciding on that case, which struck down two congressional districts.

You can listen to the entire Charlotte Talks here

Copyright 2016 WFAE

Michael Tomsic became a full-time reporter for WFAE in August 2012. Before that, he reported for the station as a freelancer and intern while he finished his senior year at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Heââ
Michael Tomsic
Michael Tomsic covers health care, voting rights, NASCAR, peach-shaped water towers and everything in between. He drivesWFAE'shealth care coverage through a partnership with NPR and Kaiser Health News. He became a full-time reporter forWFAEin August 2012. Before that, he reported for the station as a freelancer and intern while he finished his senior year at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He interned with Weekends on All Things Considered in Washington, D.C., where he contributed to the show’s cover stories, produced interviews withNasand BranfordMarsalis, and reported a story about a surge of college graduates joining the military. AtUNC, he was the managing editor of the student radio newscast, Carolina Connection. He got his start in public radio as an intern withWHQRin Wilmington, N.C., where he grew up.
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