by Bob Geary
I see by this previous post that it's been eight days since Brad Miller told us he'd be making up his mind quite soon about running for governor. I have no need to speculate whether he will or he won't. I only note for the record that, although many were called to see if they'd be running, few have chosen to do so.
Two weeks after Bev Perdue's abrupt announcement that she was terminating her re-election campaign, and one weekend away from the beginning of the filing period, we still have just three candidates for the Democratic nomination for governor: former Congressman Bob Etheridge, who wasn't doing anything else anyway; Lt. Gov. Walter Dalton, about whom the same might be said; and state Rep. Bill Faison, about whom ... ditto. That's not what you would call a strong field.
Meanwhile, Erskine Bowles said no, Heath Shuler said no, Janet Cowell said no. Joe Hackney announced that he's retiring. And among the others who've been "mentioned" as prospects —or who've mentioned themselves — we have Brad Miller, Mike McIntyre, Richard Moore and Dan Blue all holding back, not taking themselves out of it but not getting in either. (And this just in: McIntyre isn't running.)
It occurs to me that, with the economy improving (a little) and Republicans being how they are (Mitt-ish), this may well be a Democratic year.
It occurs to me that President Obama is an odds-on bet to be re-elected, and maybe even to carry North Carolina.
It occurs to me that the idea of a Republican governor rubber-stamping the policies of a Republican General Assembly may not go down so well with the state's electorate.
It occurs to me, therefore, that it is highly likely that the Democratic nominee for governor — unless he or she is a complete washout — may well be elected.
And yet the list of those clamoring for the job is short.
I was pondering this question when I happened on the website of the North Carolina Free Enterprise Foundation, which has the best analysis out there of the redistricting maps put together by the Republican-led General Assembly. NCFEF is business-funded, but the numbers don't lie and NCFEF's staff doesn't need to spin them.
Long story short, the Republicans have created districts for the state Senate and state House of Representatives so lopsided in their favor that, barring some sea change in political attitudes in North Carolina, we can look forward to a decade of Republican-controlled legislatures.
Would you want to be a Democratic governor facing four or eight years of Republican legislatures?
Republican legislatures, that is, that will block anything you want to do, so that the best you can hope for is to veto their stuff? Or maybe, just maybe, the Democrats could win the Senate in the next few elections, but all it takes is one Republican house in the legislature to screw up any and all Democratic initiatives.
To pass things, after all, you need the Senate and the House and the Governor's signature.
Good luck getting that to happen given how the Republicans' district maps put their thumbs on the election scales.
For those not conversant with the devious ways of redistricting, let me explain it this way:
In a state split roughly 50-50 between Democratic and Republican voters in most elections (Obama, e.g., carried North Carolina by less than 1% of the vote in 2008), "fair" districts would produce a Senate and House divided roughly 50-50 between the two parties; i.e., each party would have about the same number of votes as the other in each house.
[Parenthetically, I would note that with "fair" districts, a win by one party with, say, 55% of the overall vote — a pretty resounding victory in our two-party system — might give that party big working majorities in both houses. Why? Because that party's candidates would win most legislative races with somewhere between 51% ad 60% of the votes. Remember, in a winner-take-system like ours, a party that gets 45% of the overall vote doesn't get 45% of the seats. In fact, it may lose every legislative race 55-45% and get none of the seats.]
But in a political redistricting process, the party in power — in this case, the Republicans — can pack the other party's voters, the Democrats, into a relatively few districts, maximizing the number where Republican voters are in the majority.
When the Republicans are in control, moreover, the job of political gerrymandering is easier because black Democratic voters tend to live in small, compact communities. Under the Voting Rights Act, the voting power of black voters is supposed to be protected. Historically, this has meant creating majority-minority districts wherever possible around this compact black neighborhoods. Republicans don't just create majority-black districts, however; they create districts that are overwhelmingly black and/or low-income such that a Democratic candidate will win them with 80% or more of the vote.
"Pack" enough Democratic voters into a few districts, and you'll see that the most of the remaining districts will be majority-Republican by smaller but still sufficient margins — again, if all of the remaining districts come out 51-49 for the Republicans, they win every single one.
For more on how the Republicans have learned to abuse the Voting Rights Act — fascinating since they get few if any black votes; appalling because their appointees control the federal courts and allow them to abuse the Voting Rights Act — see "How the GOP is Resegregating the South" by Ari Berman in the latest issue of The Nation.
So here's what the analysts at NCFEF found with regard to the Republicans' House districts map. There are 120 House districts:
Based on our analysis of the "Lewis-Dollar-Dockham 4" plan, there are 34 Strong Democratic districts, 10 Leaning Democratic districts, 10 Swing districts, 18 Leaning Republican districts and 48 Strong Republican districts. Note that there are more Strong Republicans districts than there are Strong Democratic and Leaning Democratic districts combined. In order to retake a majority, Democrats would have to win all of the districts that favor their party, all of the Swing districts and at least seven seats in Leaning or Strong GOP territory.
The summary chart depicts how difficult it will be for Democrats to regain a majority in the N.C. Senate under these maps. There are 18 districts that Lean Democratic or are Strongly Democratic, compared to 27 districts that Lean Republican or are Strongly Republican. Five districts are categorized as Swing, and Republicans currently hold three of those seats.
The point is, the Republicans have loaded up the maps to the point that the Democrats would probably need at least 55% of the votes in legislative races altogether to win 50% of the seats in either the Senate or the House.
Unless that happens (or the maps are struck down as unconstitutional by a court), a Democratic governor is in for the same crummy time Bev Perdue's been having since 2010. She can veto bills, but her vetoes may or may not be sustained by a legislature in which the Republicans hold a veto-proof 31-19 majority in the Senate and a nearly veto-proof 68-52 majority in the House — and that's before the redistricting goes into effect.
Erskine Bowles decided he had better things to do than be the Republicans' punching bag for the next four years. I can't say what's in Brad Miller's head today, but he too may be thinking that being governor with a Republican legislature is like having a toothache that doesn't go away.
If all you do is veto Republican bills and hang on, why not let Bob Etheridge do it?