LUMBERTON — There’s no question that state legislative districts that include Robeson County will be redrawn — and it could cost the county two representatives.
There is uncertainty, however, of how the new lines will look and if any special election will be held this year to elect representatives to fill seats in new districts. Republicans leaders are in no hurry.
The U.S. Supreme Court affirmed last week that nearly 30 districts, including House District 48, which includes Robeson, Hoke, Scotland and Richmond counties and currently is represented by Democrat Garland Pierce, are illegally, racially gerrymandered. The Supreme Court upheld the decision of three federal judges who ruled the districts illegal in August, and now state officials are waiting for the lower court to say when the new maps will be drawn and whether or not a special election will be necessary this fall.
“There definitely is going to be some changes, but when the lines will be drawn and if there will be a special election is up in the air,” Pierce said. “It’s a complicated process and changes in the new maps could affect as many as 80 districts.”
Pierce, the longest serving local legislator, represents parts of Robeson, Scotland, Hoke and Richmond counties.
“Serving four counties is very difficult,” Pierce said. “It makes it just about impossible to pay attention to all of the important issues in all of the counties.”
Pierce doesn’t believe his district will include Robeson County.
Currently Robeson County is included in four House districts. In addition to Pierce’s district, these include District 47, all within Robeson County and represented by Charles Graham, a Democrat; District 66, which includes Robeson, Hoke, Montgomery and Richmond counties and is represented by Ken Goodman, a Democrat; and District 46, which includes Robeson, Bladen and Columbus counties and represented by Brenden Jones, a Republican.
Robeson and Columbus counties make up Senate District 13 and is represented by Danny Britt Jr., a Republican.
Goodman said that changes will be felt across most legislative districts.
“Anyone who tells you they know what is going to happen is not telling the truth,” he said. “I think there will be an attempt to keep counties whole. If legislators don’t draw the maps, the judges will draw them.”
Goodman said that any new maps will “most likely” take Robeson County out of House District 66. Goodman currently represents St. Pauls, Lumberton and Parkton.
“The likelihood I have Robeson County will be slim,” he said. “I’d take all of Robeson County if I could. I love the people down there.”
Those who had sued over the current maps drawn under Republican leadership in 2011 charged that too many black voters were packed into some districts and made some surrounding districts whiter and more likely to elect Republicans.
Gov. Roy Cooper, a Democrat is pushing for the new maps to be drawn this month and a special election held before the next year’s legislative session begins. After the current session ends, the next session will begin the spring of 2018.
GOP lawmakers prefer to hold the first elections with newly drawn maps during the next regular election cycle in November 2018. They fear that if there is a special election Democrats could win some seats and they could lose the veto-proof majorities they now hold in both the House and Senate.
Both Goodman and Pierce say they would prefer there to be no special election, although they understand the Democratic leadership’s position that a special election could win seats for their party and break the Republican super majority held in both chambers of the legislature.
“A special election will cost the taxpayers a lot of money and will cause a lot of confusion,” Goodman said. “Representatives in 70 or 80 districts would have to run in an election, and there is a chance Garland and I could end up in the same district and have to run against each other.”
Goodman said that making legislators who were elected last year have to run again after serving just one year of their two-year term is unconstitutional.
“The state constitution says that a state legislator will serve two years,” he said. “I ran in a legal district and now the courts may say that I have to run again after just one year of serving my term. I understand that federal law supersedes state law, but that’s not right.”
According to Goodman, Democrats gerrymandered districts when they were in control of the legislature. He said that they should remember that they lost seats in districts they had drawn to favor Democrats.
“Just because you draw the lines doesn’t mean you are always going to win,” he said. “It’s important that we learn to listen to the voters.”
Pierce said that no matter how the district lines are drawn, and if there is a special election or not, not everyone is going to be happy.
“There are going to be legal challenges no matter what goes down,” he said.
Bob Shiles can be reached at 910-416-5165.