ENC Republicans join criticism of redistricting plan
By Ginger Livingston
The Daily Reflector
Wednesday, August 23, 2017
WASHINGTON, N.C. — Republicans from Beaufort and Pamlico counties discovered a common ground with the state's Democrats on Tuesday; a mutual dislike of the state's proposed legislative redistricting plans.
Speakers from those counties joined more than 250 people to speak about the proposed redistricting plans during a statewide public hearing held at multiple locations.
More than 80 people gathered at Beaufort County Community College. A number were unhappy that the Senate redistricting plan linked their county with Martin, Bertie, Northampton, Warren and Vance counties instead of its traditional grouping with Hyde, Dare and other coastal counties.
The proposed district is 150 miles in length and would take 2.5 hours to drive, said Keith Kidwell, chairman of the Beaufort County Republican Party. The proposed district also pits Republican Bill Cook of Beaufort County against Democrat Erica Smith-Ingram of Northampton County.
"Beaufort County is a coastal county," said Gerald Seaton. Its business concerns and political needs match those of Hyde and Dare counties, not counties that border Virginia.
David Wickersham of Arapahoe protested the plan to link Pamlico with Hyde, Dare and Currituck counties in a new House district.
Wickersham said Pamlico County residents have nothing in common with those northeast counties. It's a 2.5-hour drive to reach Hyde County alone, he said, and three hours to reach Manteo. Both drives require multiple bridge crosses. With a population of 13,000, Wickersham said he doesn't believe the county could ever field a viable candidate for the seat.
Pamlico County should remain grouped with Craven, Carteret or Jones counties, where its residents go to shop, bank and conduct business, he said.
Hal and Raynor James of Craven County also said the maps need changes.
"Although I am a constitutional conservative, I too dislike divided communities," Raynor James said. There are too few Republicans in the General Assembly who adhere to the constitutional conservative mindset, she said. Among them are Cook and Rep. Larry Pittman of Cabarrus County, who also is double bunked with another Republican in a new district.
Three speakers from Washington County said they like the maps because few counties are divided.
Most criticism centered around the redistricting committees waiting until last weekend to release maps and waiting until Monday to release data about the district. One Beaufort County speaker said it appears the state cares more about rezoning issues than redistricting, because state law requires a lengthier period of public notice for zoning issues but gave citizens less than a week to prepare for this public hearing.
Although he did not speak during the public hearing, Kidwell said he wished the redistricting committees had held the hearings on different days and different locations.
Statewide, most speakers said the maps were examples of political gerrymandering. Several urged the federal court panel that set the Sept. 1 deadline for producing the maps to throw out the documents and appoint a committee to redraw the lines.
"The right to vote is the most precious right we have as Americans," said Eva Clayton, the first black woman to represent North Carolina in Congress. She called the current process a sham and flawed because the legislature is using the same process it used to design the 2011 districts which the U.S. Supreme Court found unconstitutional.
Other speakers were unhappy that the General Assembly has spent millions defending the unconstitutional maps and appears to be drawing maps that will cost millions more in legal fees.
"I am an unhappy donor to the legal fund to pay for bad maps," Helen Robinson of New Bern said.
Speakers also said the House and Senate redistricting committees were wrong to employ consultant Tom Hofeller, a mapmaker, to draw the new districts because he drafted the plans declared unconstitutional.
Rep. Michael Speciale, whose current House District 3 includes Beaufort, Craven and Pamlico counties, said the criticism is unfair because Hofeller draws the maps as directed by legislators.
Bill Roach of Carteret County said the legislators were suppressionists and supremacists.
“And if you are white you can fill that in,” he said.
Seven locations were announced public hearing sites. Initially all were linked by video, but technical problems left many people unable to hear speakers at other sites.
Initially, three or four speakers at each site talked before moving onto the next. But after three hours, and with more than 200 people waiting to speak, the connection was cut and each site held its own public hearing with the promise all would be entered into the public record.
Contact Ginger Livingston at firstname.lastname@example.org or 252-329-9570. Follow her on Twitter @GingerLGDR.