Cook: County stays whole

Published 1:18 am Tuesday, July 12, 2011

A new legislative redistricting plan – originally scheduled to be rolled out Monday – would keep Beaufort County whole and intact in one state House district.

Though the plan hadn’t been released to the public as of Monday afternoon, Rep. Bill Cook, R-Beaufort, confirmed its existence.

Reports that the plan had been crafted were aired Saturday,º but couldn’t be confirmed until Monday.

The official release of the map was delayed until today, said Grace Rogers, legislative assistant to state Rep. David Lewis, R-Harnett.

Lewis is senior chairman of the House redistricting committee.

Lawmakers haven’t approved the draft legislative and congressional redistricting plans unveiled so far by leaders in the N.C. General Assembly.

The Legislature will convene Wednesday to take up redistricting, the redrawing of legislative and congressional lines. Lawmakers must carry out this process every 10 years following the federal census.

Cook, a resident of the Cypress Landing community near Chocowinity, serves on the House redistricting committee.

Cook acknowledged GOP leaders had told him the new map should keep Beaufort County whole.

“They should show that Beaufort County will be whole in this new district,” said Cook. “I was able to put my two cents in, and they told me that they were going to keep Beaufort (County) whole for me.”

A previous district blueprint released in June would have carved portions of rural precincts and nearly all of the city of Washington out of the county, placing them in a House district rooted in western Pitt County.

That earlier plan drew bipartisan disapproval from political leaders here, some of whom made their thoughts known to Cook.

Though Cook said he hadn’t heard from a large number of constituents on this issue, “The ones that I did hear from were pretty passionate about it.”

Numerous elected, appointed and party officials from Washington and Beaufort County decried the split-county map as one that would have diminished the county’s influence in Raleigh.

Cook said he took this primary concern to Lewis, the senior redistricting chairman, and two other officials in Raleigh whom he didn’t name.

“If you’re a conservative and you want things to happen, this redistricting will have an impact on that,” he said.

Greg Dority, chairman of the Beaufort County Republican Party, has advocated keeping Beaufort County whole and intact in one state House district. Dority was among the residents who voiced the whole-county viewpoint in conversations with Cook.

“We’re very pleased that Beaufort County has been kept whole,” Dority commented. “Bill Cook went to the mat with the leadership and hit a home run. He heard the voices of the people that we didn’t want the county split and insisted that Beaufort County remain whole in the state House.”

Dority added, “Rep. Cook assured me that he would spare no efforts in keeping Beaufort County whole even if it weakened his strength” in terms of Republican favorability come election time.

He was referring to the proposed new district’s favorability to GOP candidates. Analysis of the proposed district’s voting population wasn’t possible without the map.

Asked to explain why a split county would be a detriment, Dority replied, “If the county had been divided our representation in Raleigh would have been severely diluted. With a sole representative that has Beaufort County’s interests first, we carry a lot more clout up in the Legislature.”

Surry Everett, chairman of the Beaufort County Democratic Party, said it was good the new plan would keep the county whole, but wondered aloud, “What else is there to go along with that?”

“So they put Beaufort County together, what did they do to all of the other counties?” he asked. “Somebody lost, but at least we won.”

Dority thanked the Republican leadership, including Rep. Paul “Skip” Stam, R-Wake, majority leader in the House, for listening to locals’ ideas about how their House district should be shaped.

“From day one we told Cook Beaufort County couldn’t be split, we told Skip Stam Beaufort County couldn’t be split, and we’re very pleased that the leadership has responded in this fashion,” he said.