Last week the General Assembly voted to redistrict the Board of Commissioners in Wake County, a move which some have derided as a pure power grab. The local bill, which does not require Gov. McCrory’s signature, was passed in the State Senate by a party-line vote. In the House, six Republicans voted against and two Democrats voted for it. The two Democrats were William Brisson of Bladen County, who votes with Republicans most of the time, and Charles Graham, of Robeson County. Both of them represent rural districts in the southeastern part of the state.
The six Republicans to vote against it: John Fraley (who defeated Tillis critic Bob Brawley last year), Julia Howard, Linda Johnson (of Cabarrus County), Charles Jeter (moderate Republican in swing Mecklenburg district), and Mitchell Setzer. Paul Tine, who is unaffiliated but in the Republican caucus, also voted against it.
Interestingly, no GOP legislator from Wake voted against the proposal. In the past, Wake representatives have seen fit to vote against their party when it comes to local matters. Obviously, they do not see voting aye on this as politically perilous.
The new map, unsurprisingly, would significantly increase the chances of the GOP winning the Board of Commissioners in the future. The next opportunity for them to do so would be in 2018, which would be a midterm election. Next year, incumbents in Districts 4, 5, and 6 (Caroline Sullivan, James West, and Betty Lou Ward) will be up for reelection. In addition, all Wake voters would have the opportunity to vote on a race in one “super district”, one district that is predominantly urban and another that is predominantly rural.
The following shows what major GOP candidates received in the new Wake districts in various election years. The first is Richard Burr, the second is Mitt Romney, the third is Pat McCrory, the fourth is Thom Tillis, and the fifth name is Paul Coble, the GOP Commissioner who ran strongest in last year’s election.
Burr 10/Romney 12/McCrory 12/Tillis 14/Coble 14
1 – 60%, 53%, 59%, 52%, 54%
2 – 60%, 54%, 61%, 52%, 54%
3 – 47%, 39%, 46%, 38%, 41%
4 – 33%, 30%, 35%, 27%, 29%
5 – 24%, 19%, 24%, 19%, 21%
6 – 58%, 53%, 59%, 52%, 54%
7 – 60%, 55%, 61%, 52%, 55%
A – 41%, 34%, 40%, 33%, 36%
B – 60%, 54%, 60%, 52%, 55%
Districts 1, 2, 6, 7, and super district B have all been drawn in order to maximize the GOP’s chances of taking back the Board of Commissioners. Note that these percentages are estimates that do not take into account split precincts, which are usually split for political advantage, thus these numbers are lowballing the actual support the GOP candidates received in these districts.
All of the “normal” districts will be up for election in midterms. The super districts will be up for election next year and with the accompanying presidential turnout it would probably be the best route for Democrats to assure that they maintain control after 2018. That means they’ll need a good candidate to run in suburban District B.
Note that Thom Tillis performed the worst out of the major GOP candidates above, and he still won each of the five suburban districts by over 4 points each. Democrats should hope that his numbers represent a continued bluing of the county rather than a floor for Republican support. No matter which way you slice it, Democrats have a tough road ahead, but it’s not insurmountable. Strong candidates + GOP backlash + demographic change could = continued Democratic control of the Board, even with a tough map.
One thing for certain is that the current composition of the Board is going to be changing, regardless of anything else. Republicans were quite ruthless in drawing several Democratic incumbents into a single district. In addition, if Democratic Commissioners want to have the best chance to stay in office, they’ll have to cater to a more suburban electorate. Thus, the influences of Raleigh and urban interests have been blunted even though the maps haven’t taken effect yet. The redistricting functions as a Sword of Damocles for Commissioners who want to pursue mass transit and other items on the Democrats’ agenda. It’s just another example of how a conservative legislature is putting the brakes on progressive policies even in less conservative areas.
John Wynne is the “conservative voice” at PoliticsNC, where he also provides polling analysis and commentary on legislative campaigns. When not writing about politics, he enjoys gardening and listening to opera. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org.