The proposed congressional redistricting map for 2020 that splits Forsyth County and combines Winston-Salem with Guilford County has cleared the General Assembly.
The state Senate approved by a 24-17 vote along party lines House Bill 1029, titled "Congress 2020" by bill sponsor N.C. Rep. David Lewis, R-Harnett.
On Thursday, the House approved the bill by a 55-46 vote, also along party lines.
The next step is for a panel of state court judges to review the map for any concerns of partisan gerrymandering.
Redistricting maps are not subject to a veto by the governor. Lewis said the districts would go into effect once the law is enacted. Incumbents do not have to live in the district they represent.
However, liberal advocacy group National Redistricting Foundation, led by former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, filed a lawsuit shortly after passage of the bill.
“The congressional map passed by Republicans in the North Carolina legislature simply replaces one partisan gerrymander with a new one,” Holder said.
“This new map fails to respond to the court’s order by continuing to split communities of interest, packing voters in urban areas and manipulating the district lines to provide Republicans with an unfair partisan advantage.”
Putting Winston-Salem with all of Guilford into the 6th District would mean that the state's third (Greensboro), fifth (Winston-Salem) and ninth (High Point) largest cities would have just one voice in Congress, rather than the current three.
Meanwhile, 6th District Republican incumbent Mark Walker hinted that instead of running for a fourth term in what would be a Democratic-leaning district, he might run for either the 10th District or the 13th District. Walker has represented counties in both districts, either currently or in the recent past.
“Not to overspiritualize it, but we’ve kind of praying through the process, my family and I,” Walker said, according to Politico.
Walker said in a campaign statement that “We took on Washington and Raleigh when I ran for Congress in 2014, and together we won. We did it with a new district in 2016. We will do it again in 2020.”
“This was only possible by prioritizing people over politics – the exact opposite of what Raleigh is doing today. There is little assurance the districts passed today will hold up in court.”
The redrawn 13th District seat would contain five counties (Alamance, Caswell, Chatham, Person and Randolph) in Walker's current 6th.
The four Triad counties in the district would comprise 67.76% of the population base: Alamance (20.60%); Davidson (22.21%); Davie (5.62%); and Randolph (19.33%).
“They have taken the bulk of my district and put the constituents in two other districts, so we’re kind of looking at all these options,” Walker told Politico.
“I mean, you want to do what’s right, ethically. But if you have the bulk of the people that you represent, have just been – a line’s been moved over – I mean, is that something you take a look at?”
This week's legislative session was called after state judges ruled in October that the current congressional maps couldn't be used for those reasons.
The judges encouraged legislators to redraw the congressional map to avoid delaying the March 3 congressional primaries. The State Board of Elections said it needs a congressional redistricting map by mid-December.
“The courts still have a huge part to play in this final product,” said Sen. Joyce Krawiec, R-Forsyth. “We have no way of knowing if this will be the map used in the next election.”
Several Democrats expressed their opposition to the map, saying it continues to retain partisan gerrymandering and "false transparency" to preserve a Republican majority in the U.S. House, even though analysts say the new map is likely to reduce the GOP majority from 10-3 to 8-5.
They renewed their call for an independent commission to draw the next redistricting map for the 2022 general election.
Wayne Goodwin, chairman of the N.C. Democratic Party, said the 2020 map "is just more of the same, replacing one of the most blatant partisan gerrymanders in the country with another extreme partisan gerrymander."
"We hope the courts will step in to protect every North Carolinians’ right to make their voice heard and remain steadfast in our commitment to enacting an independent, nonpartisan commission to draw future lines.”
There was no direct debate on the splitting of Forsyth and combining of Winston-Salem with Guilford during the Senate Redistricting and Elections committee and on the Senate floor.
The HB1029 map includes all of Winston-Salem, most of Kernersville and about half of Walkertown in the 6th District, which currently has Republican Mark Walker as incumbent.
According to the district population data accompanying HB1029, Forsyth overall would have 33.4% of the population base for the 6th District, and Winston-Salem 27.6%.
The map would place Clemmons, Lewisville, Rural Hall, the northern areas of Forsyth and the rest of Kernersville and Walkertown into the 10th District, which currently has Republican Patrick McHenry as incumbent.
That district would contain all of Catawba, Iredell, Lincoln, Rockingham, Stokes, Surry and Yadkin counties.
Forsyth County would have 14.4% of the population base in the 10th District, which would be centered in Iredell at 21.5% and Catawba at 18.9%.
Lewis said Thursday the combined population of Forsyth and Guilford is too large to be contained in one district and too small to be in two.
"The input (during the process) was to keep Guilford whole, which the other maps did that as well," Lewis said. "We tried to respect Winston-Salem and not split it up. I think that every county would like to be whole.
"We were told those counties like to work together."
Weaker Forsyth voice?
Combining Winston-Salem with all of Guilford "will likely make the urban Triad voice in Washington weaker rather than stronger, because there would no longer be three representatives speaking with a common voice," said Zagros Madjd-Sadjadi, an economics professor at Winston-Salem State University.
"On the other hand, it may strengthen the voice of the more rural parts of Forsyth that are left out of the combined district."
Forsyth is represented currently in the U.S. House by Republican Virginia Foxx (5th District), while Guilford is represented by Walker (6th, covering Greensboro) and Budd (13th, covering High Point).
Foxx and Budd could not be immediately reached for comment about the redistricting map's impact on their seats.
Foxx would remain in the 5th District, which would stretch from Alleghany, Ashe, Watauga and Wilkes counties in the north to Cleveland and Gaston counties to the south.
Alamance, Davidson, Davie and Rowan would be in the 13th District.
Why new districts?
Analysts have said the Congress 2020 map could shift the state's congressional districts from 10-3 Republican to potentially 8-5.
Lewis said during the floor debate there are some individuals who believe fair redistricting is "six districts (set for) a 'D,' six districts (set for) an 'R' and one that's 50-50."
House Minority leader Darren Jackson, D-Wake, said during the House floor debate that this is "a solid 8 to 5 map ... but still gerrymandered that makes other districts less competitive."
"D.C. would work so much better if the House representatives were not guaranteed re-election" from this map, Jackson said.
Kokai said the Winston-Salem/Guilford redrawn congressional seat is part of the challenge of lawmakers being "forced in this case to split the state’s 2010 U.S. Census population into 13 equal-sized districts of almost 800,000 people."
"Unless someone offers compelling proof that legislative leaders concocted a more elaborate scheme, I accept the simple explanation that these districts resulted from their efforts — north to south rather than east to west in some instances — to construct reasonably compact districts that complied with all other court directives.”
Sen. Ralph Hise, R-McDowell, and sponsor of Senate version of HB1029, said Friday that the redistricting map in HB1029 has been attacked unfairly as being too favorable to Republicans.
Political analysts have said the likely outcome of redistricting is eight solid Republican and five solid Democrat districts, with the 2nd and 6th districts flipping blue.
Hise said that "the Democrats who sued to prohibit partisan redistricting have demanded their preferred partisan outcomes in exchange for voting to support new congressional maps. Such brazen hypocrisy is astounding."
"It's clear that Democrats will vote against any map unless their partisan calculations show it would create six or seven Democratic Congressional seats.
"It will then be up to the courts to decide whether pre-determined partisan outcomes are an acceptable way to approach nonpartisan redistricting."