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Editor’s note: For the origins of the term “gerrymandering,” see below.
By David Meeker
RALEIGH – As a small business entrepreneur, I’m bullish on North Carolina. Our state has unlimited promise. But to reach our potential, a variety of major issues must be addressed and resolved.
For me, the top issue is ending gerrymandering now. Our current redistricting process is broken. Just look at what happened in North Carolina’s 2016 elections:
- not one congressional race was competitive
- and more than 90 percent of our state’s legislative candidates either ran unopposed or won by double-digit margins.
That’s unacceptable for our democracy, because politicians in these gerrymandered districts don’t face any real accountability from the public.
Thankfully, there is a growing movement to end gerrymandering and establish an independent redistricting process that removes lawmakers from drawing their own districts.
Reform groups like Common Cause North Carolina, thousands of citizens of all political stripes and hundreds of locally elected officials across the state have joined together in asking the legislature to pass independent redistricting.
But one important group missing from the movement has been the business community. The very sector that could carry great influence with the legislature has done little to push for this vital reform.
I know from personal conversations that many business leaders agree redistricting reform is badly needed in our state. Yet many of them fear being punished politically for speaking out.
It’s time for business to change its attitude because gerrymandering is bad for their bottom line and bad for the people of North Carolina.
Businesses want a moderate and stable environment with laws and policies that represent the best interests of our state. Yet all too often we are seeing reckless laws catering to a political fringe by lawmakers that can’t be held accountable because of their gerrymandered districts.
Our broken redistricting process has also led to countless costly lawsuits, delayed elections and, for the first time ever, a special legislative election in 2017 because the current maps were ruled unconstitutional by a federal court.
It’s time for business to say “enough.”
I recently helped launch a new coalition called NC Business Leaders for Accountability. Our goal is to urge lawmakers to end gerrymandering now by adopting a common-sense reform that gives redistricting authority to an impartial body, instead of partisan politicians.
We’re a group of mostly small business entrepreneurs — the lifeblood of our state’s economy. Our numbers are growing everyday, but we need big business to join the cause.
Earlier this year, larger businesses in our state seemed to have found their voice in opposing House Bill 2, a prime example of the kind of extreme legislation passed by lawmakers from gerrymandered districts that is hurting North Carolina’s reputation and undermining our economy.
We need the businesses that spoke out against HB2 to do the same on ending gerrymandering. Until we have congressional and legislative voting maps that truly reflect our state, we will continue to see insulated politicians who act without fear of facing accountability.
It’s time we demand a new redistricting process that creates districts that are fair and competitive. That would be good for North Carolina, and good for business.
The word gerrymander (originally written Gerry-mander) was used for the first time in the Boston Gazette on 26 March 1812. The word was created in reaction to a redrawing of Massachusetts state senate election districts under Governor Elbridge Gerry. In 1812, Governor Gerry signed a bill that redistricted Massachusetts to benefit his Democratic-Republican Party.
The caricature satirizes the bizarre shape of a district in Essex County, Massachusetts, as a dragon-like “monster.” Federalist newspaper editors and others at the time likened the district shape to a salamander, and the word gerrymander was a blend of that word and Governor Gerry’s last name.
David Meeker is a small business owner in Raleigh and board member with Common Cause North Carolina. Learn more about NC Business Leaders for Accountability at NCAccountability.org.