County would go to different districts in redistricting plan

Published 7:28 pm Sunday, August 27, 2017

Under a proposed redistricting plan drafted by the North Carolina General Assembly, Beaufort County would become part of new state House and state Senate districts.

Under the plan, Beaufort County and northern Craven County would be combined to form District 79 in the N.C. House of Representatives.

Also, Beaufort County would be removed from the current state Senate District 1, represented by Sen. Bill Cook, a Beaufort County Republican, and placed into a District 3, which would include Martin, Bertie, Warren, Vance and Northampton counties. Democrat Erica Smith-Ingram represents the current District 3, which includes Bertie, Chowan, Edgecombe, Hertford, Martin, Tyrrell and Washington counties.

The redistricting effort began after three federal judges ordered the General Assembly to draw new maps, approve them and deliver them to the court by Sept. 1. Those judges ruled that maps drawn in 2011 included 28 racially motivated gerrymanders, nine state Senate districts and 19 state House districts.

In June, the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously up held the three judges’ ruling. Since that affirmation, voting-rights groups and others have accused the General Assembly for waiting until late this month to make public the proposed redistricting map and supporting data.

If the proposed Senate District 3 holds up, Cook could face a substantial challenge because he would be double-bunked with Smith-Ingram in a district that would have supported Hillary Clinton 53-45 in the 2016 presidential election.

On Aug. 20, Cook said the change, if it happens, would mean Beaufort County would be in a district that leans toward the Democratic Party. “Beaufort County (which leans Republican) would have no representation,” Cook said.

Attempts to reach Smith-Ingram for comment were unsuccessful.

Herman Gaskins Jr., an unaffiliated voter in Beaufort County and connected with the Beaufort County Progressive Alliance, has issues with the proposed Senate District 3.

“The Senatorial district has an amazing configuration stretching from the Pamlico Sound to the Piedmont Virginia state line. Gerrymandering at its worst,” Gaskins wrote in an email. “(Sen. Cook) obviously told the Republicans he is retiring as a candidate from Beaufort County (and) can not win this seat.”

Gaskins also wrote, “It is doubtful whether the court will approve this district as it packs African-Americans in a district — the very problem that caused the court to invalidate the present districts.”

During a public hearing on redistricting (held at Beaufort County Community College and other sites Tuesday), several people expressed concern with the proposed Senate District 3, citing its size — about 150 miles long and taking 2.5 hours to drive, according to Keith Kidwell, chairman of the Beaufort County Republican Party. Others said Beaufort County’s issues as a coastal county are different from counties that border Virginia.

Beaufort County Commissioner Ron Buzzeo, a Republican, has more of a problem with the proposed Senate District 3 than with the proposed House District 79. “On the Senate one, I think it’s unfair to the residents of Beaufort County and the residents of the other counties in the eastern part of the state. I think we could end up with a senator that’s from more west of us. … I think the person maybe, if we get a new state senator, may not know what does on down here and what are needs are, which are completely different from other parts of the state,” Buzzeo said. “Therefore, I really don’t like this (proposed) Senate district.”

Elaine Wood, chairwoman of the Beaufort County Democratic Party, said the proposed Senate District 3 puts Cook at a disadvantage. “We’re happy with that,” she said.

Overall, Wood said, the proposed changes affecting Beaufort County would benefit the county, but she’s not happy with the proposed changes in most other areas of the state. “It makes our county whole again. … I know in a lot of districts, people are still unhappy with the way it seems to be unfairly distributed and gerrymandered,” she said. “It appears to me the districts are not as large as they could be. … There has been a lot of out pouring and complaining from various areas about that actual fact.”

Wood hopes the proposed changes undergo modifications.

“It is not final, to the best of my knowledge. I would hope by Sept. 1 they have a better accounting that will make people happy,” Wood said.

The proposed House District 79, if approved, would have no incumbent representative.

Currently, part of Beaufort County is in the 6th District, represented by Rep. Beverly Boswell, a Republican who lives in Dare County. Another part of Beaufort County is in the 3rd District, represented by Rep. Michael Speciale, a Republican from Craven County.

Under the proposed plan, the 6th District, which now includes a part of Beaufort County and all of Hyde, Washington and Dare counties, would include all of Dare, Currituck, Hyde and Washington counties. The proposed plan would change the 3rd District from including parts of Beaufort County and Craven County (southern areas of each county) and all of Pamlico County to all the southern section of Craven County and all of Pamlico County.

“Because I am on the Redistricting Committee and the plan is still subject to change, I will refrain from commenting,” Speciale wrote in an email.

Attempts to contact Boswell were unsuccessful.

Gaskins believes House District 79 “is a Republican lean and will probably elect someone from Beaufort County.”

Buzzeo said, “On this the House seat, I really don’t have an issue with that because it puts Beaufort County as one district, with part of Craven, northern part of Craven. So, there we’re keeping (Beaufort County) together, which will give us good representation.”

Charles M. Smith Sr., a Beaufort County Democrat, addressed the proposed changes and the redistricting process in an email. He wrote: “As currently drawn, they do appear to be more competitive than what we’ve been using. But my preference is for our legislature to pay more attention to truly non-partisan redistricting such as is now done in a handful of states. I understand Common Cause & a group of NC leaders headed by former UNC President Tom Ross, who was also once a judge and President of Davidson College, have both prepared such maps. Why aren’t they in the mix? The public has grown understandably cynical about the ability of any political party to achieve honestly non-partisan redistricting. Outside help is a must.”

About Mike Voss

Mike Voss is the contributing editor at the Washington Daily News. He has a daughter and four grandchildren. Except for nearly six years he worked at the Free Lance-Star in Fredericksburg, Va., in the early to mid-1990s, he has been at the Daily News since April 1986.
Journalism awards:
• Pulitzer Prize for Meritorious Public Service, 1990.
• Society of Professional Journalists: Sigma Delta Chi Award, Bronze Medallion.
• Associated Press Managing Editors’ Public Service Award.
• Investigative Reporters & Editors’ Award.
• North Carolina Press Association, First Place, Public Service Award, 1989.
• North Carolina Press Association, Second Place, Investigative Reporting, 1990.
All those were for the articles he and Betty Gray wrote about the city’s contaminated water system in 1989-1990.
• North Carolina Press Association, First Place, Investigative Reporting, 1991.
• North Carolina Press Association, Third Place, General News Reporting, 2005.
• North Carolina Press Association, Second Place, Lighter Columns, 2006.
Recently learned he will receive another award.
• North Carolina Press Association, First Place, Lighter Columns, 2010.
4. Lectured at or served on seminar panels at journalism schools at UNC-Chapel Hill, University of Maryland, Columbia University, Mary Washington University and Francis Marion University.

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