by Bob Geary
Lord knows, I hesitate to do this. For one thing, the new legislative district maps squiggle all over the place, making them extremely difficult to read in terms of who exactly lives in which district — especially if you're squinting at a computer screen, as I am. This is where mistakes are made — thus, my apologies if I've made any.
(To check me out, click on this official legislative redistricting website — the key elements on it are the proposed Senate districts, the proposed House districts, and a nifty mapping tool, the District Map Viewer, for zooming in one or another of the maps.)
Then there's the whole distasteful quality of legislative redistricting. If ever there was a black art, the idea that legislators can draw their own districts, or even worse that the majority party of legislators can draw up districts for themselves and for the other party, is just evil incarnate.
I believe Sherlock Holmes produced a short monograph on the subject, and it drove him to cocaine. ("Moriarity!" he was heard to say. Or was it, "Nelson Dollar!?")
But here goes, the highlights, or lowlights if you will, of the Republicans' gerrymandering in Wake County:
1) No District for Joe Bryan?
Far be it from me to peer into the minds of my Republican friends, but it was my understanding that Bryan, longtime Wake commissioner and of late (if not always previously) a dutiful Republican conservative, wanted to run for the legislature. Well, there's a brand-new Senate district in Wake County — we're growing, don't you know — and the map-makers put it in East Wake, wrapping it around Dan Blue's majority-black Senate District 14.
When I first saw the new 18, I thought, this is perfect for our good friend Joe.
District 18 has a Democratic incumbent, Sen. Doug Berger of Franklin County, but it's been radically redrawn to be a Republican district, so much so that John Davis, the guru of this stuff, has Berger No. 1 on his list of endangered Senate Democrats.
But then I peered closely at the screen, zoomed in on District 18 at street level, and discovered that
it does not include Bryan's voting address, 206 Maplewood Ave., Knightdale, nor his voting precinct, 17-04.
Bryan's precinct, instead, is tucked into Blue's amoeba-shaped District 14, which will elect a Republican on the day hell freezes enough to put an NHL team there. (See map: 17-04 is oh, so close, but not in, District 18.)
So I waited for the new House district map to come out — maybe his fellow GOPs drew a district for Bryan in the House? But if they did, they did him no favor. Instead of putting his precinct 17-04 into the new House District 35, which is located in East Wake and is solidly Republican, they squiggled the lines around him again ... with the result that Bryan is still in House District 39.
District 39 skews Democratic (57-43 for Obama over McCain in '08), and is represented by the popular Rep. Darren Jackson, a Democrat.
Was it something he said? Or is Joe Bryan shopping for a new house?
2) House District 49, Where Are You? Ditto, HD 11?
The incumbent in House District 49 is Republican Glen Bradley of Youngsville (Franklin County). Bradley, Bradley, where have I heard that name?
But that was the old 49. The new House District 49 is in the middle of North Raleigh, dipping down to catch a bit of the North Hills area inside the Beltline. It's a swing district (Obama won it by a mere 285 votes), and it has no incumbent. I suspect there is a Republican aspirant waiting in the wings to run for this seat, but I can't think who it is.
Wake's growth results in two additional House districts, making a total of 11. Appropriately enough, the other new one is District 11, lost by Wayne County. No incumbent living there, either, but it's a solidly Democratic district in Cary-West Raleigh (Obama 62-36 percent over McCain), and it's looking for a progressive voice.
3) Progressive House Dems Without a Home?
Squinting closely, I observe that House District 34 wraps around District 49, packing Democratic voters as it goes. It's a classic gerrymander: Put all the Dems in District 34 (Obama, 64-35), and you create a potential Republican District 49 where there should be a pair of Democratic-leaning, but competitive districts.
And 'lo and behold, not only are Dem voters packed into 34, so are Democratic legislators: Rep. Grier Martin, the current District 34 incumbent, and Rep. Deborah Ross, the current District 38 incumbent, are packed (the term of art this year is "double-bunked") in the new 34.
But couldn't one of them move and run in the new District 11? Sure, but where does that leave Cary Rep. Jennifer Weiss, a third progressive Dem who was also gerrymandered out of her home district by the GOPs.
Weiss's District 35 was obliterated (see above, 35 is no longer based in Cary, it's over in East Wake), and she's now living in a redrawn District 41, where Republican Rep. Tom Murry is the incumbent. The new 41 is a Republican district, though if I were Murry, I wouldn't want to have to defend it against the hard-working, highly respected Jennifer Weiss.
Anyway, the new 11 is open for Democratic customers, and the obvious candidates for it would be Weiss or Ross, but they'd have to move. (I started to say, sell their houses, but in this market?)
4) A second African-American House District.
Rep. Deborah Ross, as I mentioned, is the current House District 38 incumbent. Ross is white, and the current 38 is racially mixed. Not so the new District 38, which is 54 percent African-American. And, to repeat, Ross's Boylan Avenue house isn't in it, she's been double-bunked in the new District 34 with Grier Martin.
Thus, Southeast/East Raleigh and East Wake are drawn so that African-American voters dominate in District 38 as well as in District 33, the current majority-minority district where Rep. Rosa Gill, a black Democrat, is the incumbent.
This is the Republican formula for success: Pack the African-American voters into a few districts, and thus remove them — and their Democratic voting habits — from all other nearby districts.
Gill's new District 33 is 59 percent African-American, with a 5-to-1 Democratic to Republican margin in registered voters. It went 82-17 for Obama over McCain. The new District 38 is 4-to-1 Democratic and went 78-22 for Obama.
But that means no Republican voters are "wasted" in these two districts that are conceded to the Democrats, as are Districts 11, 34 and — though it's less one-sided — 39. (District 39: 57-43 percent for Obama.)
5) Bottom Line: GOPs Gain Except in a Democratic Year.
In a county that is very closely divided politically, the Republicans have drawn the 11 House districts in Wake with the goal of winning them 6-5. Currently, with nine House seats, the Democrats have a 5-4 edge.
Currently, the four Senate seats split 2-2 (Dems Dan Blue and Josh Stein, GOPs Neal Hunt and Richard Stevens).
The new Senate map mainly serves to shore up Hunt's Republican district — not currently a safe seat, but it will be — by packing Democratic voters into the Blue (14) and Stein (16) districts.
District 18, a fifth Wake district which also swallows Franklin County, will be hard for Democrat Doug Berger to hold, and is there for the taking by an eastern Wake Republican.
John Tedesco, perhaps?