Rucho defends map

Published 1:00 am Sunday, July 24, 2011


The chairman of the state Senate redistricting committee defended an early draft of a new congressional district map, but he acknowledged the map was changed to address the concerns of a congressman from a minority district.
In an interview late Friday afternoon, Sen. Bob Rucho, R-Mecklenburg, said the first publicly released map was fair, despite concerns voiced by U.S. Rep. G.K. Butterfield, D-N.C.
Butterfield represents part of Beaufort County in Congress.
“It was fair and legal, it was constitutional, it produced competitive districts,” said Rucho, who chairs the Senate redistricting committee.
Butterfield had said the original map drew roughly 80,000 minorities out of his 1st Congressional District. These voters would have been shifted into the 3rd Congressional District, which is served by U.S. Rep. Walter B. Jones, R-N.C.
The freshest map on hand would draw Butterfield out of most of his Beaufort County precincts, leaving those precincts to Jones.
In an interview early Friday afternoon, Butterfield pointed out certain counties in his district fall under Section 5 of the federal Voting Rights Act of 1965, which prohibits “retrogression” — a return to the days when blacks wouldn’t have a reasonable chance of electing the candidate of their choice.
A new map, approved by Rucho’s Senate panel Friday, appeared to return most of the affected black voters to the 1st District, Butterfield said.
But, “I want back in my district every precinct that was removed,” the Wilson congressman added.
For his part, Rucho said the Senate committee responded to Butterfield’s district-related comments made during a public hearing. Lawmakers were sensitive to those comments, the senator said.
Rucho predicted the map endorsed Friday would be “precleared” by the U.S. Department of Justice.
The Justice Department has to approve, or “preclear,” these election changes as required by the Voting Rights Act.
“This map also will achieve preclearance approval,” Rucho said. “It’s a Voting Rights Act district and has a population with a minority-majority district in excess of 50 percent.”
But changes made to the 1st District’s outlines had a “ripple effect,” resulting in alterations to other congressional districts across the state, the senator explained.
This was the reason members of the state’s congressional delegation could end up pitted against one another by being paired in the same district, he said.
“What they did do is allow the districts to be competitive for a change and hopefully the candidate with the right message (who) has the appeal to their party and also the unaffiliated voters will be able to win those,” Rucho said.
Butterfield, who said he had spoken with Rucho “several times” and met with him in person about the first map, disagreed, pointing to claims the GOP-led Legislature is trying to arrange districts that would take away Democrats’ 7-6 majority in the state’s congressional delegation.
“They’re saying the reason they made all of these changes was because I asked for 80,000 African-American citizens to be placed back in the district,” Butterfield said, calling that a “pretext” for partisan maneuvers.
“What they did was a wholesale shift all across the state, and so now I am being used as a scapegoat,” he said, adding, “The map does not reflect the political diversity of the state, and it must be challenged.”
Rucho differed on that point, saying by some measures 10 of the state’s 13 congressional districts would have higher Democratic registration levels than Republican.
State lawmakers redraw legislative and congressional districts every 10 years following the U.S. census. None of the proposed maps has received final approval.