RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — North Carolina Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper is pushing Republican state legislators to immediately redraw General Assembly districts, now that the U.S. Supreme Court has agreed that nearly 30 House and Senate maps are illegal racial gerrymanders.
Cooper on Wednesday called for a special session — to begin Thursday afternoon and run simultaneously with the current General Assembly work session — to get new maps drawn. The new governor, who has been embroiled in a power struggle with Republicans controlling the legislature since before he even took office, said if Republicans fail to draw and approve maps soon, a lower federal court will.
“We can unrig this part of the system now,” he told reporters. “Let’s act quickly to restore the trust of the people and take a first important step toward fair elections.”
However, lawmakers are not obligated to draw maps as he requests and could end the session as soon as they gavel it in. GOP leaders portrayed the governor’s action, revealed in a hastily called news conference by Cooper, as theater designed to distract them from performing current work, like passing a two-year state budget.
“This is a clear political stunt meant to deter lawmakers from our work on raising teacher pay, providing relief to the communities affected by Hurricane Matthew and putting money back into the pockets of middle-class families,” state Sen. Ralph Hise and Rep. David Lewis said in a release.
But Cooper said it’s time new boundaries are drawn because the General Assembly has been operating under illegal district lines since 2011. The nation’s highest court this week upheld a lower court ruling throwing out 28 legislative districts. That lower court could decide special elections should be held this fall, using new boundaries.
Cooper said the current districts are the reason North Carolina has seen a hard-right agenda implemented for most of this decade. Cooper cited Republican-approved laws cutting income and corporate tax rates dramatically, creating taxpayer funded grants for students to attend private schools and blocking local gay-rights ordinances through House Bill 2.
“The extreme and damaging laws that they enacted were passed under the dark cloud of a racial gerrymander, Cooper said, adding “the very existence of this legislature is and has been unconstitutional for five years.”