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North Carolina Republicans put exclamation mark on pivotal annual session with redistricting maps

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — The North Carolina General Assembly gave final approval Wednesday to new redistricting maps poised to empower the state GOP for years to come.

Passage of the maps also marks a final achievement for Republican leaders in this year’s annual session that saw their priorities on abortion, LGBTQ+ and gun rights, voting rights and education become law, and in turn eroded Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper’s powers.

Lawmakers in the ninth-largest U.S. state enacted new boundary lines for state House and Senate districts and for the U.S. House delegation in a series of party-line votes.

The redistricting, resulting from court rulings related to maps for the 2022 elections, could give North Carolina Republicans at least three more seats in the U.S. House after 2024 at the expense of first- and second-term incumbent Democrats, according to state election data. That alteration could help Republicans nationally keep a House majority on Capitol Hill.

The state House and Senate maps also put Republicans in a decent position to retain complete control of both chambers through the rest of the decade. While Republicans have held majorities in both chambers since 2011, this year marked the first in five years that they held veto-proof majorities — the result of 2022 electoral gains and the party switch of a House Democrat in April.

The narrow supermajorities resulted in all 19 of Cooper’s vetoes this year being overridden.

“We’ve campaigned and run on and speak to our constituents about the things that resonate with us and with our base,” said GOP Senate Minority Whip Jim Perry of rural Lenoir County. “We’re doing exactly what we said we were going to do.”

Bills vetoed by Cooper that are now law tightened North Carolina’s ban on most abortions from after 20 weeks of pregnancy to 12 weeks; prohibited gender-affirming medical treatments for youth; limited LGBTQ+ instruction in early grades; and eliminated needing a permit from a county sheriff before purchasing a handgun.

Other new laws that Cooper initially vetoed took away his ability to make appointments to several key boards and commissions and gave some or all of them to the General Assembly, its leaders or other elected officials. That includes the State Board of Elections, the state Utilities Commission and the Board of Transportation. Lawmakers approved the first appointments under this new distribution before going home Wednesday.

Legislative Republicans have wanted to place a “very deliberative stamp” on North Carolina since they took control in 2011, said Catawba College political science professor Michael Bitzer. With veto-proof majorities, Bitzer added, “they were able to carry out a lot more of shaping the state.”

Democrats allied with Cooper argue the GOP this year tried to settle scores with the governor, who is term-limited from running for reelection in 2024, and to ensure the General Assembly is the strongest of the three branches of government.

Republicans “focused more on beating Cooper this session than we have on trying to advance the needs of a growing state,” House Minority Leader Robert Reives, a Democrat, said in an interview. Now, he said, “the only thing the governor can do is go around and cut ribbons.”

Democrats have blasted the redistricting maps as harming minority voters and giving the GOP outsized political advantage in a state where statewide elections are closely contested. They say the current maps also are skewed, giving Republican lawmakers the ability to advance policies that hurt women or LGBTQ+ people without fear of electoral reprisals.

The “issues that we’re seeing focused on in the legislature also do not reflect the views and priorities of most North Carolinians,” Ann Webb with Common Cause North Carolina said at a Wednesday news conference. “When you create noncompetitive legislative maps, you lose accountability to the voters.”

North Carolina’s constitution exempts redistricting legislation from gubernatorial veto, leaving opponents with little recourse but to sue. But the scope of possible litigation was narrowed by a state Supreme Court ruling in April that declared the constitution placed no limits on shifting lines for partisan gain.

Democratic lawmakers suggested during legislative debate that lawsuits alleging racial bias in the maps lie ahead. Lawsuits already have been filed over the appointments laws and one LGBTQ+ law.

Cooper did celebrate a few of the legislature’s actions this year — in particular a law that will soon expand Medicaid coverage to several hundred thousand low-income adults. Expansion was one of Cooper’s top priorities, but it almost didn’t happen because Republicans spent the summer in a stalemate over the budget. Expansion was contingent on a final budget getting enacted.

That requirement opened the door for Republican budget-writers to fill the two-year spending plan with provisions that Cooper opposed. They included expanding taxpayer-funded scholarships for private school to all K-12 children and more individual income tax cuts. Cooper decided to let the budget become law without his signature, citing Medicaid expansion as the reason.

Aside from the “monumental achievement” of Medicaid, Cooper spokesperson Sam Chan said in a written statement, “this legislative session has hurt the people of North Carolina on almost every front.”

Gary D. Robertson, The Associated Press









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