North Carolina’s Discrimination Law, Redistricting, and Moneyed Interests

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The Moral March on Raleigh (Feb 8, 2014). Image Credit: James Willamor via Flickr. Cropped for this essay. Licensed under CC BY-SA-2.0

In the months and years following Obama’s election in 2008, rich donors on the extreme-right took advantage of a dirty trick many democrats have taken advantage of in the past: redistricting. Every 10 years, a U.S. census is conducted and district lines are redrawn to ensure the fairness and proportionality of the electoral process. In a majority of the states — 33 of them, this process is controlled by the state legislature itself. North Carolina is one of those states.

In 2008, the Redistricting Majority Project — REDMAP — was started to achieve this goal. ProPublica points to a column Republican strategist Karl Rove entitled “The GOP Targets State Legislatures” explaining much of the strategy.

This strategy already paid off by 2012, very much so in North Carolina.

Take the federal House of Representatives, for example. According to data by ProPublica, in the 2012 election there were 2,218,357 vortes for Democrats and 2,137,164 votes for Republicans in North Carolina. While a majority of the vote went to democrats in this elections, only 4 house seats were won by Democrats, while 9 seats were won by Republicans. Put differently, Democrats won 51% of the vote but only 31% of North Carolina’s house seats. Up until then, according to Jane Mayer, republicans hadn’t controlled both state legislature houses for more than a century.

Armed with the recently decided Citizens United ruling, which gave unprecedented influence of money over politics, a number of moneyed interests set out to claim as many state legislature seats in 2010 as possible, in preparation for the redistricting process. Karl Rove’s Wall Street Journal column was precisely to that effect. The approach paid off, according to ProPublica:

In 2010 state races, Republicans picked up 675 legislative seats, gaining complete control of 12 state legislatures. As a result, the GOP oversaw redrawing of lines for four times as many congressional districts as Democrats.

A number of moneyed interests were backing the REDMAP project. James Arthur (Art) Pope of Variety Wholesalers was one of them, Mayer states. ProPublica also states:

A ProPublica investigation has found that the GOP relied on opaque nonprofits funded by dark money, supposedly nonpartisan campaign outfits, and millions in corporate donations to achieve Republican-friendly maps throughout the country. Two tobacco giants, Altria and Reynolds, each pitched in more than $1 million to the main Republican redistricting group, as did Rove’s super PAC, American Crossroads; Walmart and the pharmaceutical industry also contributed. Other donors, who gave to the nonprofits Republicans created, may never have to be disclosed.

[…]

Where Democrats were in control, they drew gerrymandered maps just like Republicans. They also had their own secretive redistricting funding. […] But Democrats got outspent 3-to-1 and did not prioritize winning state legislatures. They also faced a Republican surge in 2010.

With a shortlist including Variety Wholesalers, Walmart, and a number of tobacco companies, the motivations of many of these groups were financial. Promoting free market regulations, limit government regulation, abolish (or limit) minimum wage law, and dismantling the EPA were among the policies they pushed for.

It is no surprise, therefore, that the religious freedom bill, which forbids city lawmakers from having their own anti-discrimination ordinances which contradict it, also includes a ban on minimum wage laws. David A. Graham notes in The Atlantic:

The law not only overturns Charlotte’s ban [on LGBT discrimination]: It also prevents any local governments from passing their own non-discrimination ordinances, mandates that students in the state’s schools use bathrooms corresponding to the gender on their birth certificate, and prevents cities from enacting minimum wages higher than the state’s.

Moneyed interests got their way. Self-serving free-market legislation is often wrapped in a blanket that mobilizes a highly socially conservative base that the far-right has grown dependent on.

It will only get worse.

Eyas is a Software Engineer based in Brooklyn. Follow him on Twitter or his Personal Blog.

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Software Engineer living in Brooklyn, NY. MIT Computer Science S.B. ’13, M.Eng. ‘14. From Amman, Jordan. Interested in politics, current affairs, and technology

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