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Decision could affect current challenge in Texas and future GOP efforts to pack black voters into districts
By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor
WASHINGTON (CFP) — The U.S. Supreme Court has upheld a lower court ruling striking down the congressional map approved by North Carolina lawmakers after the 2010 census because it relied too heavily on racial considerations in drawing the new lines.
The May 22 ruling will have little impact in North Carolina because lines were already redrawn after the state lost the case in the lower court. But in the long term, it could limit the ability of Republican majorities in Southern statehouses to pack black voters into a small number of districts, thereby maximizing the number of safe GOP seats.
It could also have an impact on pending litigation in Texas, where the U.S. House map is being challenged by Latino and Democratic groups over alleged racial gerrymandering.
After the high court’s ruling, a federal judge in San Antonio overseeing the case asked Texas’s lawyers to consider whether legislators might “voluntarily” meet in special session to consider changes to the state’s map. There was no immediate response from state leaders.
The case in North Carolina was the high court’s latest attempt to resolve the tension between the 14th Amendment, which forbids using race as the primary consideration in drawing political lines, and the Voting Rights Act, which requires legislators in most Southern states to maximize the potential of minority voters to elect candidates of their choice.
At issue were the 1st and 12th districts, which were changed substantially after the 2010 census as part of an effort to make the state’s districts equal in population, as required by earlier Supreme Court rulings.
Under the new lines, the black voting age population in the 1st District rose from 48.6 percent to 52.7 percent, largely by adding majority-black areas of Durham into the district. The black voting age population in the 12th District also rose from 43.8 percent to 50.7 percent, which was done by replacing existing white voters with black voters not previously in the district.
The state had defended the changes by arguing they were made to comply with the Voting Rights Act. But the Supreme Court’s majority opinion, authored by Justice Elena Kagan, rejected that argument, noting that both seats had already been represented by African-American Democrats without the addition of more black voters.
Kagan wrote that the Voting Rights Act “gave North Carolina no good reason to reshuffle voters because of their race.”
Kagan was joined in the opinion by her fellow liberal justices, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor and Stephen Breyer, along with conservative Clarence Thomas, the only African-American on the court.
Three other conservatives justices — Samuel Alito, John Roberts and Anthony Kennedy — agreed with the majority that the 1st District had been impermissibly drawn but disagreed about the validity of the 12th District. The court’s newest justice, Neil Gorsuch, did not take part in the case.
After losing the case at U.S. District court, North Carolina’s legislature redrew the state’s entire map, which was used in the 2016 elections. African-American incumbents in the 1st and 12th districts — G.K. Butterfield and Alma Adams — both won, although Adams was forced to move to Charlotte and run in new territory after her home in Greensboro was drawn out of her previous district.
The new map did not change the political balance in the state’s congressional delegation, which remained at nine Republicans and three Democrats. Its only significant effect was forcing two Republican incumbents — George Holding and Renee Ellmers — to run against each other. Holding won.
Over the last 30 years, as Republicans have taken control of state legislatures across the South, majority black districts created to comply with the Voting Rights Act have sent African-American representatives to Congress, in many cases for the first time since Reconstruction.
However, the packing of black voters into these districts have reduced black voting age populations in surrounding districts, making them more Republican. One result has been that white Democrats, who were once the mainstay of Southern congressional delegations, have all but disappeared.
Only six Southern states — Florida, Texas, Tennessee, North Carolina, Kentucky and Virginia — are currently represented by any white Democrats. And out of 40 Southern Democratic representatives in Congress, only 15 are non-Latino whites, compared with 20 African Americans and five Latinos.
Out of 109 Republicans representing the region, 105 are white, three are Latino and just one, U.S. Rep. Will Hurd of Texas, is African-American.
Texas, where the congressional map is currently being challenged, presents a particular wrinkle in application of the Voting Rights Act because it contains large concentrations of both African-American and Latino voters.
While black voters tend to be strong, partisan Democrats, Latino voters are somewhat less so, which makes it difficult to advance the argument that lines are being drawn for political reasons, which is legal, rather than for racial considerations, which is not.
But 5 GOP lawmakers in other potential swing districts help pass new health care law
♦By Rich Shumate, Chickenfriedpolitics.com editor
WASHINGTON (CFP) — Five Republican members of the U.S. House defied party leaders and President Donald Trump to oppose a bill to repeal Obamacare and replace it with a new blueprint for U.S. health care, but five other GOP lawmakers holding potentially vulnerable seats took a different tack and voted to go along with the American Health Care Act.
Two of the Southern GOP no votes on May 4 came from Will Hurd of Texas and Barbara Comstock of Virginia, who both represent districts that Hillary Clinton carried in 2016. A third lawmaker from a district Clinton carried, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida, also voted no but is retiring in 2018.
Hurd, whose district stretches across a wide swath of West Texas, issued a statement after the vote saying the plan pushed by GOP leaders “does not address the concerns of many of my constituents, including adequate protections for those with pre-existing conditions and the challenges faced by rural healthcare providers.”
Comstock, whose district is anchored in the Washington, D.C. suburbs, said in a statement that her “goals on healthcare reform are to provide patient-centered reforms that provide better access to high quality, affordable care and cover pre-existing conditions without lifetime limits. ”
“I did not support the AHCA today because (of) the many uncertainties in achieving those goals,” she said.
The other two Republicans who voted against the bill, Thomas Massie of Kentucky and Walter Jones of North Carolina, did so not out of any fear of Democratic competition but because they believe the repeal measure doesn’t go far enough.
“As recently as a year ago, Republicans argued that mandates were unconstitutional, bailouts were immoral and subsidies would bankrupt our country,” Massie said in a statement after the vote. “Today, however, the House voted for a healthcare bill that makes these objectionable measures permanent.”
Jones had earlier said the attempt by House Republican leaders to push an Obamacare bill repeal through the House on a rushed schedule was “shameful,” and he called for scrapping the bill in its entirety and starting over.
Of the 138 Southern Republicans in the House, 133 voted in favor of the AHCA. Five of those members represent districts where Democrats could conceivably use their votes for the new health care law to try to unseat them. In fact, if any one of them had voted no, the bill — which passed by just a single vote — would have failed, which will allow Democrats to make the argument that each of them bears responsibility for its passage.
This group of members who supported the bill includes two of the region’s most vulnerable House Republicans, Carlos Curbelo and Brian Mast, both from Florida. Curbelo represents a district in Miami-Dade and Monroe counties that Clinton carried; Mast’s district, which includes St. Lucie, Martin and northern Palm Beach counties, has changed parties in three of the last four election cycles.
In a statement, Mast said the GOP health care plan “returns control of health care from Washington back to you and restores access to quality, affordable options that are tailored to your individual needs.” He also pushed back against Democratic criticism that a provision in the new law allowing states to waive mandates for coverage of pre-existing conditions would imperil coverage for the sickest Americans.
“This bill mandates that people cannot be denied coverage because of pre-existing conditions and allocates almost $140 billion in additional funding that will subsidize coverage for people with pre-existing conditions to ensure they costs are low,” Mast said. “Those claiming otherwise are the same people who said ‘if you like your doctor, you can keep you doctor,” and they’re putting partisan politics ahead of the people in our community.”
Also voting yes were John Culberson of Texas, whose metro Houston House district was carried by Clinton; Mario Diaz-Balart, whose majority Latino district in metro Miami and southwest Florida went for Trump by less than 2 points; and Ted Budd of North Carolina, whose Greensboro-area district went for Trump by 9 points.
In a statement, Diaz-Balart conceded the AHCA was “far from perfect.” But he said the House needed to act because Obamacare “is collapsing,” leaving just one insurance provider in two of the three counties he represents.
“Knowing the people I represent could very well lose their coverage … is disturbing,” he said. “It would be irresponsible for Congress not to act in order to prevent this from happening.”
Budd also conceded in a statement that “the legislative process is a human process with all the flaws that entails. The results of that process are never perfect, and this bill isn’t either.”
“What I believe it will do is significantly reduce insurance premiums in our state, and help put the individual insurance marketplace on a more sound financial footing,” he said.
Also voting yes was Pete Sessions of Texas, whose metro Dallas district was also won by Clinton. However, Sessions, who has been in the House since 1997 and won re-election by more than 50 points in 2016, is not considered vulnerable to a Democratic challenge.
All 40 of the Democrats representing districts in the South voted against the AHCA.
But compromise measure prevents cities from passing protections for LGBTQ people
♦By Rich Shumate, Chickenfriedpolitics.com editor
RALEIGH (CFP) — After a year of turmoil and economic boycotts, North Carolina legislators have passed a compromise bill that rolls back HB2, a law which prohibited transgendered people from using restrooms in public facilities that didn’t conform with their their birth gender.
However, the bill hammered out by Democratic Governor Roy Cooper and leaders of the Republican-controlled legislature also forbids local jurisdictions in North Carolina from passing non-discrimination ordinances protecting LGBTQ people until at least 2020, a compromise that left LGBTQ advocates seething.
“Lawmakers and Governor Cooper have failed to resolve the problems with HB2 by doubling down on discrimination,” said Chris Sgro executive director of Equality NC. “Once again, the North Carolina General Assembly has enshrined discrimination into North Carolina law.”
“Lawmakers must reject this disgraceful backroom deal that uses the rights of LGBT people as a bargaining chip,” said Sarah Gillooly, policy director for the ACLU of North Carolina. “It is shameful that legislative leaders and North Carolina’s governor are once again rushing through a discriminatory anti-LGBT measure without proper vetting or an opportunity for public input.”
The bill to repeal HB 2 passed March 30, less than 12 hours after the compromise between Cooper and legislative leaders was unveiled. The House approved the repeal 70 to 48; the Senate, 32 to 16.
Cooper, who as attorney general refused to defend HB2 when it was challenged in court, campaigned for governor in 2016 on a pledge to repeal the law. Just a week before the compromise was reached, Equality NC was lauding Cooper for insisting on full repeal.
In a statement issued after the repeal bill was unveiled, the governor conceded that it was a compromise from the outright repeal initially sought.
“It’s not a perfect deal, but it repeals House Bill 2 and begins to repair our reputation,” Cooper said.
The compromise bill was passed the same day that the NCAA was to decide whether to remove all of its events from North Carolina until 2022 in protest of the transgendered bathroom exclusion.
HB2 was pushed through the GOP-controlled legislature in March 2016 in reaction to the decision by the Charlotte City Council to pass a human rights ordinance protecting LGBTQ people, which included the right of transgendered people to use restrooms and locker rooms that comport with their gender identity, rather than their birth gender.
The new law set off a firestorm of controversy. The NBA, ACC and NCAA all pulled events from the state, and a number of businesses halted plans to relocate or expand there.
The governor at the time, Republican Pat McCrory, bore the brunt of the nationwide backlash to the law. Last November, he was the only Republican governor to lose his seat, in a campaign dominated by the HB2 controversy.
Under the repeal measure, local jurisdictions would no longer be able to regulate use of bathroom facilities in public buildings, as Charlotte tried to do. Only the legislature could enact such regulations, but, after repeal of HB 2, no regulations currently exist. In essence, while transgendered people would not specifically be barred from using facilities that comport with their gender identity, they would also not have a legal right to do so.
However, the second part of the repeal bill prevents Charlotte or any other jurisdiction in North Carolina from passing LGBTQ anti-discrimination measure for the next three years.
Trump accelerates Republican shift in counties named for Jefferson Davis and Robert E. Lee
♦By Rich Shumate, Chickenfriedpolitics.com editor
(CFP) — Jefferson Davis and Robert E. Lee loom large as icons of the Southern Confederacy, so much so that 11 Southern counties and one Louisiana parish bear their names. But if these lions of the South are aware of what is happening in their namesake counties today, they may be rotating in their graves.
Changes in presidential voting in these counties over the past 40 years illustrate just how far the Black Republicans against which Lee and Davis fought are now transcendent—and the alarming (for Democrats) degree to which white Southerners have forsaken their traditional political roots.
Of course, the South’s march toward the GOP is not news. Today, the term “Solid South” has an entirely different connotation than it did during the days of FDR or Lyndon Johnson. However, these namesake counties do provide a window into how these shifts in party preference have occurred over time and the role that race played in them.
The 2016 presidential results also show that the Republicanization of the South is accelerating in these counties that bear the mark of Southern heritage, which bodes ill for future Democratic prospects.
In 1976, when Democrat Jimmy Carter became the first Southerner to win the White House since Zachary Taylor in 1848, he carried nine of the 12 Davis and Lee counties. By 1992, Bill Clinton and George H.W. Bush were splitting them six-to-six.
By 2000, Republican George W. Bush had flipped nine of the 12 namesake counties his way; his average share of the total votes cast for the two major party candidates in those counties that year was an impressive 64 percent. But in 2016, Trump trumped the younger Bush, carrying those same nine counties with an average of 70 percent of the two-party vote.
In 1976, Republican President Gerald Ford’s share of the two-party vote topped 50 percent in just three namesake counties (in Florida, Alabama, and Kentucky). But by 2016, Trump’s share of the two-party vote was more than 50 percent in nine counties and parishes; above 60 percent in eight; above 70 percent in four; and above a whopping 80 percent in two (Georgia and Kentucky).
The most dramatic changes were in Jeff Davis County, Georgia, where native Georgian Carter carried 79 percent of the vote in 1976 and Trump won 81 percent in 2016, and Jefferson Davis Parish, Louisiana, where Carter won 62 percent and Trump 75 percent. However, even in majority black Lee County, Arkansas, Trump’s 16-point loss in 2016 was less than half of Ford’s 38-point defeat.
In addition to Lee County, Arkansas, the only namesake counties Trump lost in 2016 were Jefferson Davis County, Mississippi, and Lee County, South Carolina, which are also majority black. However, even in these three counties, Trump carried a larger share of the two-party vote in 2016 than Mitt Romney did in 2012.
In fact, Trump improved on Romney’s result in 11 of the 12 namesake counties, save only Jeff Davis County, Texas, where Trump had to settle for merely matching Romney’s total.
The results in these namesake counties over time also illustrate the role race has played in the political realignment of the South.
In all seven of the overwhelmingly white namesake counties, the Republican share of the two-party vote was higher in 2016 than in 1976, by an average of 29 percent. Trump did better than Romney by an average of 4 percent.
By contrast, in majority-black Lee counties in Mississippi and South Carolina, the Republican two-party share fell by an average 2.5 percent from 1976 to 2016, but Trump outperformed Romney by the same 2.5 percent. These results indicate that the white Southern shift to the Republicans appears stronger than the corresponding black shift to the Democrats.
This is borne out by the results in Lee County, Arkansas, which has the smallest African-American population of any of the majority-black namesake counties (55 percent). There, the Republican share of the two-party vote actually climbed 11 percent between 1976 and 2016, and Trump beat Romney’s total by 5 percent.
Two of the namesake counties—Lee County, Florida, and Jeff Davis County, Texas—are outliers in that they have significant Latino populations. The Republican share of the two-party vote in both of those counties was higher in 2016 than it was in 1976, but Trump’s results were down from the numbers put up in 2000 and 2004 by George W. Bush, who, for a Republican, ran strongly with Latino voters.
The results in the namesake counties also illustrate the mountain which Democrats need to climb if they are to reduce Republican hegemony in the South.
The Democratic base once included small towns and rural areas across the Southern landscape, as well as urban areas. In 2016, Democrats still held the cities (with newfound and welcome signs of life in suburban Atlanta and Houston) and the mostly small rural counties with majority black populations, such as the namesake counties in Arkansas, Mississippi and South Carolina. Democrats also do well in college towns such as Athens, Georgia, and Gainesville, Florida.
But Democrats’ failure to compete for the votes of small town and rural white voters is what is killing them electorally, as the results in the Davis and Lee namesake counties without black majorities vividly illustrates.
Only one of these namesake counties is urban—Lee County, Florida, which includes Fort Myers—and Lee County, Alabama, contains Auburn University. The rest of these counties and parishes are all rural, white areas where Messrs. Davis and Lee are no doubt remembered fondly and Jimmy Carter ran reasonably well—and where Hillary Clinton couldn’t get elected dog catcher if she handed out $20 bills at the polling booth.
As a barometer of the past, these namesake counties illustrate how far Democrats have fallen in their former strongholds. But if Trump’s improved results over Romney’s are a barometer of the future, the bottom may not yet have been reached.
All of the no-shows represent districts carried by Hillary Clinton
♦By Rich Shumate, Chickenfriedpolitics.com editor
WASHINGTON (CFP) — Thirteen of the 40 Southern Democrats in the U.S. House have announced that they will not take part in the January 20 inauguration of Donald Trump.
Lawmakers from Florida, Georgia, Florida, Kentucky, Mississippi, North Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia are among the no-shows. All of the boycotting members represent urban or black-majority districts that were carried by Democrat Hillary Clinton.
Trump’s tweets castigating U.S. Rep. John Lewis, D-Georgia, for announcing an inauguration boycott seemed to particularly rankle some of the members opting not to attend; Trump’s reaction was called “repugnant,” “ignorant,” and “insensitive and foolish.”
“We are sending a message to Mr. Trump. Respect, like Pennsylvania Avenue, is a two-way street,” said U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Texas, who will be among the no-shows.
However, none of the three other Democrats in Lewis’s own Georgia delegation have joined the boycott. Also not joining so far is U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who, as head of the Democratic National Committee during the presidential campaign, had been a sharp Trump critic.
As for the contention by Trump supporters that the inauguration is a celebration not of him but of the peaceful transfer of power, U.S. Rep. Julian Castro, D-Texas, said, “Every American should respect the office of the presidency and the fact that Donald Trump will be the 45th President of the United States. But winning an election does not mean a man can show contempt for millions of Americans and then expect those very people to celebrate him.”
U.S. Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Virginia, said Trump’s “behavior and harmful words during and after the campaign have left the country I love with open, bleeding wounds. Instead of binding those wounds, he has poured salt on them. Instead of unifying us, he has reveled in driving wedges between us.”
Trump won 108 of the 154 congressional districts across the South in the November election; none of them are represented by Democrats.
Lawmakers boycotting the inaugural are unlikely to pay a political price, as all but two of them represent districts that Clinton carried with at least 60 percent of the vote. However, U.S. Reps. Darren Soto, D-Florida, and John Yarmuth, D-Kentucky, come from districts where Clinton’s share was just 55 percent.
The list of boycotting Democrats includes:
- John Lewis, D-Atlanta
- John Yarmuth, D-Louisville
- Bennie Thompson, D-Jackson
- Steve Cohen, D-Memphis
- Gerry Connolly, D-Fairfax County
But new governor calls for repeal of law regulating transgendered bathroom use
♦By Rich Shumate, Chickenfriedpolitics.com editor
RALEIGH (CFP) — In his inaugural address, incoming North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper issued a call to end the contentious politics that have bedeviled the start in recent years, but he also made it clear that he would push for repeal of a bill that limited use of public restroom facilities for transgendered people.
“The people of this state are tired of yesterday’s politics. You expect and deserve public servants who reject cynicism, who don’t succumb to political paralysis, who negotiate differences in good faith,” Cooper said.
“I don’t think anyone believes that North Carolina families sit around the kitchen table every night thinking that their lives would change for the better if only the legislature would spend its time on the hot-button social issues of the day,” he said.
“People have bigger concerns, like why they haven’t gotten a raise in eight years or why the cost of health insurance is too much to bear or if they can afford to send their kids to college.”
Because of a snowstorm that paralyzed North Carolina, Cooper delivered his January 7 inaugural address on television, rather than to an outdoor crowd as initially planned.
Cooper, a Democrat, defeated incumbent Republican Governor Pat McCrory by just 10,277 votes out of nearly 4.8 million cast, which was the nation’s closest gubernatorial election this year and the only one that flipped from Republican to Democratic.
The most contentious issue in that election was House Bill 2 — passed by the GOP-controlled legislature and signed by McCrory — which required transgendered people to use bathrooms in public facilities consistent with their birth gender, rather than the gender with which they identify.
Cooper, who was attorney general at the time, opposed the measure and refused to defend it in court. In the wake of the bill’s passage, a number of major companies have dropped plans to move or expand in North Carolina, and the NBA, NCAA and ACC have all pulled sporting events out of the state.
After the election, the legislature met in special session to consider repealing the law, but Republican supporters of the law scuttled the effort. Cooper made in clear in his inaugural address that he would keep trying.
“This law has isolated and hurt a lot of people, damaged our state’s reputation and cost our economy hundreds of millions of dollars that could have paid our teachers and firefighters or built new highways,” he said.
“There are enough bipartisan votes in the legislature right now to fully repeal HB2 with no strings attached. This is not complicated. In fact, it’s very simple. Let them vote.”
Cooper will face a legislature dominated by Republicans. In the Senate, the GOP holds 35 seats to 15 for Democrats; in the House, Republicans have 74 seats and Democrats 46. Those margins are enough to override Cooper’s vetoes, which only requires a three-fifths majority in the Tar Heel State.
However, in late November, a federal judge struck down the state’s legislative districts on the grounds that they were improperly gerrymandered using racial considerations and ordered the legislature to draw new maps.
Unless the U.S. Supreme Court intervenes, new elections for the entire General Assembly will have to be held in 2017, which could allow Democrats to gain back some ground.
After the election, the legislature also passed measures to limit the number of political appointments Cooper can make and require that his cabinet picks to be approved by the legislature. Cooper has gone to court to challenge those new laws.
Cooper, 59, from Nash County in eastern North Carolina, served four terms as attorney general before seeking the governorship, the second longest tenure in that office in state history.
Concession comes after vote recount in Durham County
♦By Rich Shumate, Chicken Fried Politics.com editor
RALEIGH (CFP) — Nearly a month after election day, North Carolina’s hotly contested governor’s race has finally been settled and will flip into Democratic hands.
Republican Governor Pat McCrory conceded the race to Democratic Attorney General Roy Cooper on December 5, after it became clear that an ongoing recount in Durham County would not overturn Cooper’s lead.
“Despite continued questions that should be answered regarding the voting process, I personally believe that the majority of our citizens have spoken,” McCrory said in a video posted on YouTube. “We now should do everything we can to support (Cooper).”
Cooper welcomed the concession in a Facebook post, bringing to an end a contentious race that became the most expensive governor’s race in state history.
“While this was a divisive election season, I know still that there is more that unites us than divides us,” Cooper said. “I’d like to thank all of the hardworking families in North Carolina, and I look forward to serving the greatest state in the country as your governor.”
Cooper’s lead over McCrory was 10,263 votes, out of more than 4.7 million votes cast, a difference of just .22 percent.
Cooper’s win is a rare moment of good news for Democrats in North Carolina, which went Republican in both the presidential and U.S. Senate races. The Cooper-McCrory contest was the only governor’s race in the country that shifted the office from Republican to Democrat.
Democrats will now hold four out 14 Southern governorships. The others are in Virginia, West Virginia and Louisiana. Republicans hold the remaining 10.
The contention over the results in Durham began on election night, when a batch of 90,000 votes came in all at once, propelling Cooper — who had trailed most of the night — into the lead statewide.
McCrory and his campaign found those results suspicious and demanded a recount. However, Durham election officials said the late reporting of results was caused by a technical problem that forced them to enter the results from voting machines by hand.
The Durham County elections board turned down McCrory’s request for a recount, but the State Board of Elections voted along party lines to order one.
In North Carolina, both state and county elections boards are appointed by the governor, and the governor’s party holds a majority.
McCrory rode a GOP wave into office in 2012, but the Republican-controlled legislature’s passage of a controversial voter ID law and measures favored by religious conservatives made the governor a lightning rod.
The issue that dominated the race was McCrory’s decision to sign a law requiring transgendered students to use bathrooms that match their gender of birth, rather than their gender of identity, in public facilities.
McCrory continued to defend the law, even after a number of businesses scuttled expansion plans and the NCAA, NBA and ACC pulled events from the state.
Cooper not only opposed the measure, but he also refused to defend it in court when students and the federal government took legal action to overturn it.