by Bob Geary
[image-1]The ink on Ty Harrell's resignation letter is barely dry, but Wake Democrats today were focused on finding a replacement for him who can hold his District 41 seat in the 2010 elections. As of about 5 p.m., Wake Democratic Chair Jack Nichols said he'd already fielded calls from five folks interested in being that replacement. "And I've heard other names," Nichols added.
Nichols said the five were all at the stage of "checking with spouses or bosses" about whether their hats should be in the ring, and he didn't want to name any names. So we're left with rank speculation. Based on a variety of gossip and some quick look-ups to see who actually lives in House District 41 (Northwest Raleigh, Morrisville and West Cary), I'm speculatin' about John Burns, a lawyer and party activist who helped Harrell win the seat in the first place. Morrisville Town Commissioner Linda Lyons and Cary Town Councilor Gale Adcock are other possibilities. (Update: Also Chris Heagarty, former head of the N.C. Center for Voter Education.)
The party's executive committee meets tomorrow (Tuesday) night in Garner -- 6 pm at the Garner Auditorium, West Garner Street) -- by which time the pot will surely be boiling.
Whoever gets the nod, Nichols said, will have to start campaigning for "re"-election almost immediately. Even before Harrell stepped down, District 41 was a ripe target for Republicans desperate to gain some leverage in the General Assembly over the post-2010 legislative reapportionment, which will establish district lines for the next 10 years. If the GOP can win the House or Senate, they'll have some say over where the lines go. If they don't, but come close, deals are possible. But if they don't -- and with a Democrat in the Governor's Mansion -- they'll be at the mercy of the Dems.
How does reapportionment work? Basically, the majority party (Dems) packa the other party (Repubs) into as few districts as possible, while maximizing the number it can win with comfortable, but not overwhelming margins. The current legislative maps, drawn up after the 2000 census, are the product of such Democratic gerrymandering, which is why -- in a state that splits about 50-50 between the two parties -- the Democrats have maintained comfortable majorities in both houses since 2002.
In that sense, District 41 is an outlier. It was drawn up as a Republican district, but former Rep. Russell Capps was a little too right-wing even for Republican tastes, and he lost it in 2006 to Harrell. Harrell held it in '08, a huge year for the Dems, but at best it's a swing district for them. Hence the need for the strongest possible replacement.
This is the third time Wake Dems have needed to fill a legislative seat in recent months. Sen. Vernon Malone's death created a vacancy that Rep. Dan Blue was chosen to fill, then Rosa Gill -- a longtime school board member -- was picked to take Blue's seat. The process is therefore familiar: Chairs and vice chairs from the precincts in District 41 get a vote, plus any other elected Democratic officials who live in the district, including any state or national Democratic committee members. The total number of voters is likely to be in the dozens, but well under 100 -- Nichols was working on a list when we talked.