How partisan redistricting is hurting Republicans

By Scott Mooneyham | Oct 21, 2013

RALEIGH -- The irony is not obvious, but it's there.

Last week, Thom Tillis, the Republican speaker of the North Carolina House and U.S. Senate candidate. joined two rivals for the GOP Senate nomination in saying that he would have voted "no" on the measure that ended the federal government shutdown and averted a deadline in raising the federal debt limit.

Joining Tillis in criticizing the deal were Charlotte pastor Mark Harris and Cary doctor Greg Bannon, two other Republican contenders vying to replace Democratic U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan.

Tillis tried to couch his criticism as best he could, blaming the entire Washington crowd and noting that the deal may just delay the fight for another day.

Still, that position, while catering to a conservative primary electorate, does neither he nor any of his GOP opponents much good once a primary is over and the real contest against Hagan begins.

With polls showing North Carolinians unhappy with shutdown, it doesn't require much insight to envision the political hay that the Hagan camp can make of the positions taken by her Republican challengers.

Whoever emerges from the GOP primary will be accused of siding with "Washington tea party Republicans" in continuing a shutdown.

The worst financial-related predictions of a fall off the fiscal cliff will be assumed, including a drop in Americans' retirement savings, and the Hagan campaign will attempt to wrap those predictions around the neck of her eventual Republican opponent.

The irony, for Tillis, lies in his support for doing away with a key cause of the political polarization that led to the federal government shutdown and contributes to a political landscape where GOP candidates are forced further and further to the right, only to damage themselves before general election season.

It has only been in Tillis' state House that a North Carolina legislative chamber, in 2011, voted to do away with a partisan redistricting system that has seen Democrats and Republicans create gerrymandered congressional and legislative districts.

Those "safe," gerrymandered districts have caused more races to be decided in primaries, resulting in the election of more ideologues in the state legislature and Congress. They also leave those who are not ideologues subject to the whims of more strident voters.

(The state Senate never took up the House bill.)

Cynics would point out that Tillis was more than happy to embrace the round of partisan redistricting that had already begun and provided Republicans with big advantages in the 2012 election.

But after years of watching Democrats bludgeon them with map lines, Republican state lawmakers would have been fools not to do the same at least once.

The issue now is what happens going forward.

A group of government reform advocates, which including liberals and conservatives, has been holding town hall meetings around the state to try to drum up grassroots support for nonpartisan redistricting.

Their cause may be furthered by an obvious downside to partisan redistricting that has emerged even for the Republicans in power in North Carolina: the damage to statewide candidates.