Few regions in the United States have seen their politics changed more by redistricting and gerrymandering than Western North Carolina – and Asheville and Buncombe County in particular.
Asheville Mayor Esther Manheimer is one of those leading the charge against gerrymandering in Western North Carolina.
“Gerrymandering of federal, state and local elected offices by the state legislature has all been for one blatant, political goal—and that is to diminish the voice of the people.”
Manheimer and the Raleigh-base watchdog group Common Cause gathered at Pack Square Park to show their support of North Carolina House Bill 200—which aims to reform re-districting.
“There’s been a lot of action at the legislature in Raleigh this year, as you may have known. Lawmakers convened in January and passed a flurry of bills,” said Brent Laurenz, of Common Cause. “Unfortunately much of it highlighting bitter partisan divisions and partisan struggles that we see across the state and nationally, which is why it’s a real shame that a popular issue like redistricting reform, can’t even get a hearing in a committee.”
According to Laurenz, HB200 was introduced earlier this year with bipartisan support. The bill has 39 cosponsors- which includes the entire House delegation of Buncombe County Democrats, and all of Henderson County’s Republicans, including Rep. Chuck McGrady, who is a primary sponsor.
Jim Millican, of Candler attended the rally in Asheville: “I’m an opponent of Gerrymandering because it basically takes the power to vote away from the citizens. It ensures that there are guaranteed winners and guaranteed losers. It makes elections non-competitive, and therefore citizens are disinterested in voting because their vote don’t matter. I hope the legislature will recognize the bipartisan benefit of switching the system to a more neutral system, so that voter participation matters.”
But Common Cause is not confident the bill will even get a committee hearing in Raleigh this year.
“The people in power supported this when they were in the minority party. Senate leader Phil Berger and House Speaker Moore sponsored legislation in 2009. And Speaker Moore actually voted for this very similar bill in 2011, when it came to the floor and had bipartisan support. Since then we’ve been met by reluctance on the part of leadership to give this a fair vote.”
Around the corner, area businesses were also getting educated on gerrymandering. Western Carolina University political science professor Chris Cooper was giving a presentation on it and its impact on the state at the Asheville Chamber of Commerce.
He said its most obvious effects on the region are its two congressional seats. After the 2010 elections, the Republicans took over both houses of the General Assembly. One of their first acts was to redraw the district lines, splitting the city of Asheville in the process. Once redrawn, they altered the shape of the tenth and eleventh congressional districts. The result? The eleventh went from being the most competitive district in the state, to the most Republican.