(WGHP) — George Washington was an anomaly.
When he left office after just two (reluctantly-served) terms as America’s first president, England’s King George III is said to have remarked, “If he does that, he will be the greatest man in the world.”
It is in most people’s instinct – well, politicians’ instinct, at least – to retain power and control whenever possible. That gave rise to the practice of, “gerrymandering.”
That term was first used by the Boston-Gazette in 1812 as a satire on a political district drawn by Massachusetts Governor Elbridge Gerry’s Democratic-Republican Party (what later became today’s Democratic Party) to retain control over the state government. One of the districts north of Boston looked like it was shaped like a salamander … hence, ‘gerrymander.’
Both major US parties have mastered the craft, in the centuries since and with control of the state legislature in North Carolina, Republicans have the authority to draw the maps, here. Perhaps they were inspired by Woody Hayes in some of their honesty during the process. In 1968, the story goes that Ohio State’s legendary football coach, Woody Hayes was asked after a game in which his Buckeyes blew out rival Michigan why he went for two points after a touchdown when the game was already well in hand, “Because I couldn’t go for three.”
During one of the recent redistricting sessions in the North Carolina general assembly, the Republican leadership was asked why, in a fairly evenly divided state, why they drew congressional districts that would likely elect 10 Republicans and just three Democrats, one of the Republicans replied, “because I don’t think it’s possible to draw districts that will elect 11 Republicans and only two Democrats.” Bonus points for transparency.
The latest maps approved by the general assembly appear to analysts to likely elect 7 Republicans, 6 Democrats and have one other district south of Raleigh that would be a toss-up, most years.
“I would imagine that’s about as good as the state Democratic Party could expect, given the circumstances because, again, my argument is, North Carolina, leans Republican so it would be hardly surprising to see North Carolina have 8 or 9 of the 14 seats,” says UNC-Greensboro political scientist David Holian. “Ten or eleven, under the originally approved maps, that’s stretching thing in terms of partisan fairness.”
Mac McCorkle, a political scientist at Duke who worked for many Democratic campaigns when he was a consultant, agrees.
“I think Democrats should reflect on the fact that even the fairest map – which I think this is about as fair as you can possibly think about – still shows a Republican majority,” says McCorkle. “There’s no natural Democratic legislative majority I guess is the point.”
Democrats have sued to have the maps thrown out as unfair – and some of them were – but this is a practice that has found a home in most states.
“This is a common, gerrymandering strategy – we’re killing North Carolina here but Illinois, Maryland did it for the Democrats,” says Holian.
But New York may be the Democrats’ best work where the state went 60-40 to Biden in the 2020 election but Democrats are working toward a set of districts they hope can elect 24 Democrats to just 3 Republicans – that would give Democrats nearly 90% of the congressional seats from New York.
See North Carolina’s new districts in this edition of the Buckley Report.