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Protecting Republican successes down east

RALEIGH — Recent Republican successes in eastern North Carolina may not be such a good thing for long-term Republican success elsewhere across the state.

That statement makes sense only when you consider the consequences of that success on proposed new district maps for the state House and Senate.

One of the keys to the GOP’s historic majorities in the House and Senate were wins in the traditional Democratic strongholds in the coastal plain.

In the state Senate, Republican Buck Newton beat Democrat A.B. Swindell in Nash and Wilson counties; Democrat Charlie Albertson retired in a district composed of Duplin, Sampson and Lenoir counties, only to be replaced by Republican Brent Jackson; and Democrat Don Davis was beaten by Republican Louis Pate.

In the state House, four Republicans beat four Democratic incumbents in the same general area.

Republican Stephen LaRoque beat Democrat Van Braxton in a House district that includes portions of Lenoir and Wayne counties and all of Greene County; Republican Norman Sanderson beat Democrat Alice Underhill in Craven and Pamlico counties; Republican Bill Cook beat Democrat Arthur Williams in Beaufort and Pitt counties; and Republican Jeff Collins beat Democrat Randy Stewart in Nash County.

Another Democrat who retired, Russell Tucker, was replaced by Republican Jimmy Dixon in Duplin and Onslow counties.

Coastal Plain counties have traditionally been dominated by Democrats, black Democrats who generally vote Democratic across the ballot and conservative white Democrats who split their ticket to vote for Republicans in some federal races.

That trend began to change in the 1990s. Today these counties are tricky territory for candidates of either party.

The area also was pretty tricky territory for the Republican map-drawers who, in the new proposed state House and Senate districts released last week, tried to protect their new friends from the east.

Outside of the east, the legislative maps present no great surprises.

East of Raleigh, they are not a pretty sight. Squiggly lines and meandering snakes of territory run every which way.

No one with any sense could look at the current House and Senate maps in the central coastal plain, compare them with the new proposals and conclude that the new ones are anything but partisan gerrymanders making a mess of traditional community boundaries.

The proposed House District 10, which LaRoque represents, could be the most convoluted political district ever devised in North Carolina. Only the historical audaciousness of Illinois congressional mapmakers may save it from national ridicule.

The mapmakers defend the proposed districts on the basis of creating new majority-minority districts and as a means of reflecting the continuing population shifts to metropolitan areas.

So far, the maps’ critics have focused their attention on the racial composition of the districts. The convoluted coastal plain lines may represent a bigger challenge for legislative Republicans fighting certain court challenges.

The new Senate map divides nine more counties than the current map. The new House map divides five more counties.

Trying to protect those Republican successes down east is a big reason why.

Scott Mooneyham writes about North Carolina politics for the Capitol Press Association.

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