Rep. Heath Schuler (D-NC), a three-term congressman, is no stranger to seeking re-election in a GOP-friendly district.
But this time around, if he runs, his fortunes may turn, as he faces the prospect of protecting his seat in the wake of redistricting in North Carolina, a process that was largely controlled by state Republicans for the first time in over a century. State Democrats stand to lose their 7-6 majority and more in the state Legislature.
House, Senate, and congressional maps proposed by state Republicans late on Wednesday were passed without much revision. They will not be subject to a veto by Democratic Gov. Bev Purdue. However, they will be reviewed by federal courts to ensure compliance with the Voting Rights Act.
And already three Republicans, including Jeff Hunt, a five-term district attorney, are lining up to be the next to represent the 11th District.
Schuler is not the only Democratic state lawmaker in North Carolina who should be concerned about how redistricting could affect his job. Democratic Reps. Mike McIntyre, Brad Miller and Larry Kissell are all in districts that were reshuffled to their disadvantage.
If the four Democratic lawmakers in GOP-leaning districts lose their seats as a result of the new redistricting map, the currently 7-6 Democratic House could become a 10-3 Republican one.
After gaining control of both chambers in November, state Republicans found themselves wielding new influence over redistricting, and they were not going to let the opportunity go to waste. They quickly proposed a new redistricting map that would pack Democratic voters into noncompetitive areas while making vulnerable areas more GOP-leaning.
The House Redistricting Committee’s decision on Wednesday confirmed Democratic suspicions that the Tar Heel State may be the GOP’s “prize pig” when it comes to redistricting. North Carolina was one of the few states Republicans failed to make huge gains in 2010 midterms. But if they play their cards right, Republicans could sweep three or four seats in the next election.
Controversy over redistricting began in July, when state GOP lawmakers released a new congressional district map that was immediately assailed by lawmakers Rep. Mel Watt (D-NC) and Rep. G.K. Butterfield (D-NC) for, they say, violating the 1965 Voting Rights Act by concentrating black voters in fewer districts, thereby diluting their electoral power.
“(It’s) a sinister Republican effort to use African-Americans as pawns … to gain partisan, political gains in Congress,” Watt said in a statement.
The issues over fair racial representation could have presented a court challenge to state Republicans’ plans but since then, state Republicans have come out with a second redistricting map, one that was purportedly made in order to address such concerns over VRA.
The new map was also decidedly worse than the original for state Democrats, as it redraws districts, placing Democratic lawmakers against each other unlike in the original map, and Democrats with previously shown conservative appeal in even more GOP-leaning districts.
However, Wednesday’s developments seem to have solidified the GOP’s gains in the state, until the next round of redistricting at least. Now, the fortunes of state Democratic lawmakers in North Carolina are hanging in the balance.