Butterfield calls out GOP

Published 1:22 am Saturday, July 2, 2011

A congressional redistricting plan released Friday by leaders in the N.C. General Assembly likely violates federal law, said U.S. Rep. G.K. Butterfield, D-N.C.

“It offends the Voting Rights Act,” said Butterfield, a former Superior Court judge and N.C. Supreme Court justice.

The plan “packs” minorities into one district and disenfranchises minorities in other districts, including his own, the congressman asserted.

“In our thinking their voting rights are being affected,” he said.

Butterfield is a Wilson resident who represents the 1st Congressional District. His district currently includes parts of Beaufort County in west Washington and south of the Pamlico River.

Butterfield said he has represented the county for seven years, “and I’ve done it proudly,” building connections with people here.

Portions of east Washington and Beaufort County north of the Pamlico are represented by U.S. Rep. Walter B. Jones, R-N.C., of Farmville.

The new congressional redistricting map would push Butterfield’s district boundary to the northwest and leave all of Beaufort County in Jones’ district.

Jones’ Greenville and Washington, D.C., offices were closed Friday, and none of the congressman’s staffers could be reached for comment.

The map was unveiled on the Legislature’s official government website.

The map hasn’t been adopted by the General Assembly.

The House and Senate will meet July 13 in a special session called to consider adopting redistricting plans for legislative and congressional seats.

Lawmakers redraw these district lines every 10 years following the federal census.

Butterfield made clear his conviction the congressional map runs afoul of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

The act was designed to protect minority voting rights.

Forty North Carolina counties are covered by Section 5 of the act, meaning any election changes affecting those counties have to be approved, or “precleared,” ahead of an election. The approval has to come from the U.S. Department of Justice.

“From what I can see this map was drawn with one purpose in mind, and that is for partisan political advantage,” Butterfield said.

His principal objection to the local effect of the district blueprint is that it could disenfranchise minority, Beaufort County voters who currently reside in the 1st Congressional District, which is a majority-black district.

The plan would place those voters in a majority-white district.

“The Legislature’s using the Voting Rights Act for partisan advantage,” Butterfield stated.

Asked whether he expects legal challenges to be initiated if the congressional map is approved, Butterfield replied, “I do. I’m not able to be more specific than that.”

It’s too early to tell whether he would be a plaintiff in a lawsuit to turn back the map, Butterfield said in response to a follow-up question.

Greg Dority, chairman of the Beaufort County Republican Party, endorsed the congressional outline.

“For Beaufort County it would be a tremendous advantage to have just one congressional representative,” Dority said. “There’s more focus than if it’s split.”

Replying to a subsequent question, he added, “It will be a tremendous advantage for Beaufort County to be solely represented by one congressional member.

When the counties get split sometimes the power is diluted. But when it’s a sole county the representative is forced to provide more focus on that county.”

Delores Lee, president of the Beaufort County Democratic Women, echoed Butterfield’s statements on the map.

“We would like to see that map looked at again because we’re not in agreement with the way it is as submitted,” said Lee, whose club advocates for Democratic causes. “And hopefully they will look at it again.”

A group of county Democrats is looking into the minority districts made public so far, Lee said.

To date, Republican legislative leaders have made public majority-minority districts for the state House and Senate and the full congressional map that was rolled out Friday. The congressional map covers all 13 of the Old North State’s congressional districts.

“We will be coming out with some suggestions later on in the month,” Lee said, soon adding, “Based on what they proposed it looks like they have not invested a lot of research as to how it would affect the minorities. It shows that they have not considered the minority population seriously based on what they have come out with.”

None of the maps proposed so far has been approved by the Legislature.

To see the proposed congressional map, visit http://www.ncga.state.nc.us/gis/randr07/District_Plans/PlanPage_DB_2011.asp?Plan=Rucho-Lewis