Nearly every time we address the issue of GOP gerrymandering in these pages, we are accused of having been silent when Democrats committed the same sin.
“Where were you then?” some readers ask.
Actually, we were where we’ve always been: against politically stacked districts drawn by self-serving politicians of whatever party.
As evidence, the following column is reprinted from May 12, 2013:
Some letter writers have taken us to task lately for insisting on an independent redistricting process for congressional and state legislative seats.
“For how many years has the News & Record been the newspaper of Guilford County?” fumes one with a wagging finger. “Where were the editorials calling for an independent committee to handle redistricting the voting districts? ... Now that Republicans have finally come to power, they are supposed to give it up for ‘independent’ redistricting (until the time that Democrats regain control)!”
Says another: “Your pious bias is all too palpable. The Democrats were in control of the Legislature for more than 100 years. Are you implying that they never gerrymandered redistricting, never passed laws that affected education, voting, etc. etc. ...?”
This isn’t the first time we’ve been accused of suddenly getting religion about redistricting now that the GOP rules Raleigh. But the truth is, we saw the light a long time ago.
The News & Record has been pointing out the folly of lawmakers drawing their own districts at least since the early 1990s — when Democrats were firmly in control.
From a News & Record editorial in 1997:
North Carolina legislators have a golden opportunity to do the right thing by having an independent commission redraw congressional and legislative district lines. But will they?
If the past is prologue, they won’t. That would be regrettable.
They didn’t and it was.
And the foxes still guard the henhouse. Actually they design and build it, drawing district lines with one over-arching goal in mind: to get themselves re-elected.
That editorial argued what we’ve been pretty much arguing to this day:
There is no reason to delay moving ahead with the commission idea. History has proved that when legislators monkey around with lines, they create monsters.
Also, from 1997:
Safe seats don’t serve the needs of democracy. They do just the opposite, discouraging healthy competition between candidates of the two parties.
The Democrats’ proposal just underscores what we and others ... have said all along. Redistricting by incumbent legislators will never come out right.”
In 2001 we ripped then-state Sen. Brad Miller, a Democrat, for helping to draw the convoluted 13th District, then running for the seat:
The district is a classic gerrymander, violating all the sound principles of legislative districting - compactness, contiguousness and respect for traditional political boundaries - in an effort to create a Democratic safe seat.
Miller took exception and threatened to sue. Bring it on, we said.
And, finally, we opined in 2004:
We have long supported a nonpartisan commission to do the job. ... Many experts cite Iowa as the best model.
There, an independent commission is composed of that state’s nonpartisan civil servants. They are ordered to draw three redistricting plans based solely on population and racial data (the latter is required by the federal Voting Rights Act). The legislature must vote up or down on a plan.
If Plan 1 is rejected, the legislature goes to Plan 2. Iowa adopted the system in the 1970s and has never gone to Plan 3.
Well, you get the idea.
The model we referred to in that editorial is pretty much what’s being discussed now with bipartisan support in the state House. But it seems destined to be dead on arrival in the Senate.
Nearly unbridled power is as intoxicating to Republicans as it was to Democrats.
Redistricting remains one of the most self-serving rituals in a notoriously self-serving institution. Like Gollum, in “Lord of the Rings,” the party in power is so obsessed with its “Precious” that it can’t let go.
Or if you prefer sports analogies, it’s a college basketball team that not only gets to play its biggest rival at home, but gets to draw the three-point line closer to its basket, gets six fouls instead of five — and gets two points for every free throw.