Rucho to lead N.C. Senate's redistricting committee

Jim Morrill
Charlotte Observer
December 7, 2010

N.C. Sen. Bob Rucho, a Matthews Republican named to lead the Senate's legislative and congressional redistricting efforts, said Monday he hopes to fast-track the creation of "fair and legal districts."

And U.S. Rep. Patrick McHenry of Cherryville, the ranking Republican on a census oversight committee, said he hopes the state can start the process as early as February.

Lawmakers will use the 2010 Census as the basis for the remapping. The Census Bureau guarantees only that all states will have the data by April 1.

"Especially considering our history of lawsuits in North Carolina that in many cases have become legendary, we're very hopeful that we'll be in the early states for data releases," McHenry said Monday.

North Carolina redistrictings have had a history of legal hurdles.

In the 1990s, the 12th Congressional District was the most litigated in the country, according to the "Almanac of American Politics." The district represented by Democratic Rep. Mel Watt was part of four cases that went to the U.S. Supreme Court.

In 2002, a state Superior Court invalidated legislative districts drawn the year before. That case ended up in the state Supreme Court. Legal challenges delayed the start of the 2004 elections.

To complicate matters, under provisions of the Voting Rights Act, any redistricting has to be approved, or pre-cleared, by the U.S. Justice Department.

"We're working hard to get the numbers early for two reasons," Rucho said. "One, we're a voting rights state and need approval of Justice Department. Two, so we can make the February 2012 filing period."

Candidates are scheduled to kick off the 2012 elections by filing for office in February that year.

Incoming Senate Leader Phil Berger of Rockingham County named Rucho to the chairmanship, calling him "a good listener and evenhanded." The House has yet to name a counterpart.

Republicans have long accused Democrats of drawing districts favorable to their party. Former GOP Rep. Ed McMahan of Charlotte, who co-chaired a previous redistricting committee, expects that to change.

"I certainly think Republicans will try to take advantage of this to at least try to make the maps more fair because they have been gerrymandered by the Democrats for so many years," he said.

Rucho said he's excited "about showing the people of North Carolina exactly how it should be done ... the way the law says it should be done."

Rucho said he doubts an independent redistricting commission, favored by some, could be truly independent.

"There's always politics involved, one way or another," he said.