The Editorial Staff
It defies the laws of logic that a city or state’s district lines are so malleable that they can be shaped overnight quicker than it takes to roll a ball of Play Dough into a poor excuse for a snake, or to stick a wad of gum under a table, assuredly annoying someone’s mother. Yet, officials across these united states have demonstrated time and time again that with a lucky election cycle, a lot of hard work, the charisma of Bill Clinton and dubious, back-room deals, one can, in fact, achieve the impossible and not just defy the laws of logic, but rewrite them.
These aforementioned district lines are the victims of redistricting— a word some would argue is the clever and politically correct substitute for the more devious “gerrymandering.” Gerrymandering is a complicated concept that covers the gamut of political ills, ranging from partisan attempts to sequester votes, whether it be by race, social status, or political affiliation. As a result, various court cases related to the topic have afforded states serious bonding time with the U.S. Supreme Court over the years.
Gerrymandering has a long and dark history, and Greensboro is now getting to know the concept even better than it did before.
February brought with it two important things for the citizens of Greensboro: roughly nine inches of snow and Sen. Trudy Wade’s Senate Bill (SB) 36. Both the snow and the bill inspired mixed reactions from the community. Some citizens took to their sleds as they lauded the bill, arguing it was an achievement for all mankind; whilst, other citizens stayed inside with five sweaters on and inveighed against it, declaring it to be the work of dark magic.
Wade, Guilford county’s state senator, got the idea from various sources (that she won’t name, by the way) that Greensboro would benefit from an increase in districts from the current four to the desired seven.
And this Editorial Board, in many areas, agrees with Senator Wade.
Under its current structure, the City Council operates on a 5-3-1 system. This, in short, means that there are five districts, three at-large representatives, and one mayor. Obviously, this system is full of problems.
For starters, this creates the potential for double-representation in certain areas of the city— which, unsurprisingly, tends to be the wealthier segments of Greensboro, like Irving Park and Sunset Hills. In fact, a few years ago, then-city councilperson and current Mayor Nancy Vaughan, sat on the Council with her husband, Don Vaughan, before he left for the State Senate. Certainly, no sane person can believe it’s morally acceptable to have two people from the same household “representing” Greensboro.
Wade’s plan, however, ensures that there will be only one district with double-representation: the mayor’s. And since the mayor has limited power, this can hardly be seen as giving disproportionate sway to one district over the seven others.
It is at this point, however, that we must disagree with everyone involved in the process.
Once the General Assembly took up redistricting, all of the hard-core partisans came out in vehement support or opposition of the proposal. Although, in the interest of being objective, the opposition to the bill was far more vicious and, occasionally, mean-spirited.
Yet, the opposition looked poise for a victory as Wade’s bill stalled in the House and major Greensboro Republicans, like Howard Coble and BJ Barnes, came out in favor of a referendum, which was a deal-breaker for the North Carolina Senate.
Then, in June, the debate restarted with a passion rivaling that of a non-American soccer fan at the World Cup— yes, the ones that cry after their team loses.
All of this began when Wade deceitfully slid in her Greensboro redistricting reform measure into a bill aiming to reshape Trinity, North Carolina’s system of government. As she most certainly knew, this legislative tactic became headline news and moved the debate over Greensboro redistricting in the General Assembly to a boil.
After some hand-wringing and political waffling, the House passed Senator Wade’s bill and created an 8-1 City Council system. This system, as previously noted, does away with double-representation and ensures that all citizens are equally represented in the Council; there are even four minority-majority districts. And, despite all of the partisan victimhood portrayed by local Democratic leaders, there are more registered Democrats than Republicans in each of the eight districts.
But, this is where our agreement with Wade ends. The Senate, in an obvious move to assert its own authority, prohibited the city from holding a referendum on the subject, so that the people could decide their own form of government. And, on top of that, the city has zero authority to change its form of government in the future.
In our minds, this is blatant hypocrisy on the part of the North Carolina Senate, by far the most conservative elected institution in the state. Constantly, we are bombarded by Senate President Phil Berger and others about the tyranny of Washington and big-government liberals that intrude on state rights. Of course, as is typical with Senator Berger, his actions in facilitating the crafting of Senator Wade’s bill, which impacts his own district, have demonstrated his desire for personal power and influence rather than what’s in the best interest of his constituents.
Of course, the members of the City Council are not free from any blame in this process. In fact, they have shown themselves to be selfish politicians willing to spend $25,000 in lobbying and legal fees in order to beat the redistricting measure of the Republicans. And rather than advocating for a level-headed approach, like those pleading for a simple referendum, they have been perceived as rejecting any change to the status quo.
It must be understood that politicians have an interest in maintaining their district lines, because they want to stay in office. We just want to make it clear that you shouldn’t use taxpayer money to do so.
It also didn’t help matters that Attorney General Roy Cooper, a Democrat poised to seek the Governorship in 2016, chose not to argue the state’s side in federal court earlier this summer. That decision led to a judicial defeat for the bill that is almost certainly bound to be temporary.
But city and state politicians aren’t the only ones who have failed the citizens of Greensboro. The News & Record, a supposedly serious source of news, lowered itself to a standard that, quite frankly, disturbs this editorial staff. Does the journalistic ethical code mean nothing nowadays?
The News & Record’s primary grievance, aside from the biased rhetoric that drips from the words of each news piece run on the subject, was its very public denunciation of the bill. The newspaper sold T-shirts on its website, drawing inspiration for the design from the Gadsden flag, a relic from the Revolutionary War.
The shirts says, “Don’t tread on me,” with a coiled snake prominently featured. The words “Raleigh, let Greensboro be!” are also on the shirt. Their merchandise scheme drew the attention of, not only local media, but also such large national news outlets as The New York Times.
Did the News & Record switch day jobs? Has the editorial staff decided their skills would be best put to use as lobbyists as opposed to journalists?
It is appropriate that a newspaper have an institutional opinion; that, in fact, is the purpose of the editorial page. However, to participate in such an overt protest against an important and transformational piece of legislation by a newspaper is unacceptable.
No one is innocent in the great Greensboro redistricting debacle of 2015. All parties share the blame for this failed piece of legislation.