The latest Elon University Poll finds that just 28 percent of North Carolinians approve of the job the General Assembly is doing.
You might think that would worry Republican legislative leaders who control the House and Senate. There’s an election in November after all and the miserably low approval numbers could mean trouble for Republicans at the polls.
But it’s almost a certainty that they won’t. Nobody in Raleigh expects Democrats to win enough seats to take over either chamber and that includes Democrats themselves if they are being honest.
It’s not just that the low approval numbers don’t always translate into votes, it’s that it doesn’t matter if they do or not.
Control of the 2015 General Assembly was decided three years ago when Republican leaders elected in 2010 carefully drew the district maps that will be in place until 2021 unless a court throws them out.
There a handful of races for the 170 seats in the General Assembly that might be competitive this fall, but not many. Voters in 70 districts already know which party will represent them in the legislature in 2015 before a single vote is cast as only one major party has fielded a candidate.
The vast majority of the rest of the races in the House and Senate are over too with the result a foregone conclusion.
Some pundits are suggesting that the Democrats failed to recruit candidates in a few races that could have been competitive. Maybe, but that doesn’t change the fundamental problem with this election.
Politicians have carefully chosen their voters. And yes Democrats did it when they were in charge and Republicans howled and fought for an independent redistricting process that minimizes the role that politics play in drawing the district lines.
Very few Republicans are howling now. They like having the power to draw the maps and they were good at it. More people in North Carolina voted for a Democrat for Congress than a Republican in 2012, but because of the gerrymandered maps, nine Republicans were elected to the state’s 13 member House delegation and just four Democrats.
Slightly more people in 2012 voted for Republicans for the General Assembly overall than voted for Democrats but the Republicans won huge supermajorities because of the gerrymandered lines.
That ought to bother you if you believe in democracy — whatever your political persuasion. One election every ten years should not decide who will run our General Assembly for a decade.
The GOP House, to its credit, passed an independent redistricting bill in the 2011 session but the Senate never considered it. Neither chamber spent much time on the proposal in 2013.
But there is a movement building across the state, led by Common Cause and other good government groups on the Left and Right, to put an end to this nonsense and restore some sense of sanity to the democratic process with redistricting reform.
The problem of course, is that it requires politicians in power to change the system that put them in charge in the first place. Democrats who are now grumbling about the ridiculous district maps should have adopted redistricting reform when they ran the General Assembly.
Republicans in control now need to remember the demands they made for reform when they were in the minority. But not many politicians are eager to give up power. Folks in charge never feel vulnerable.
The reform that passed the House in 2011 would set up an independent redistricting process when the maps are drawn again in 2021. That’s far enough away that no one can predict how the demographics of the current districts will change or what forces will be shaping the state’s political climate.
The time for redistricting reform is now. An election where almost half the legislative races and control of the House and Senate are decided before one vote is cast is not real democracy.
Voters need to decide for themselves who will represent them, not have it determined by a handful of map drawers in the basement of the Legislative Building every 10 years.
Chris Fitzsimon is executive director of NC Policy Watch.