GREENSBORO, N.C. (WGHP) — If you listened to closing arguments for the North Carolina redistricting trial on Thursday, you might have heard the name of Pricey Harrison, the Democrat from Greensboro who represents District 61 in the state House.
Harrison’s name emerged as a sidebar to the discussion of the blockbuster revelation on Wednesday in testimony by Rep. Destin Hall (R-Lenoir) that there was a secret room where “concept maps” were drawn that later were brought into the public sessions that legislative leaders touted as the most transparent redistricting process in history.
It seems that Harrison had suggested steps the General Assembly could have taken that might have avoided the situation that Hall ultimately revealed.
This all emerged, of course, because the maps adopted for Congress and the General Assembly on Nov. 5 were challenged in court this week because they were created through what plaintiffs (and some elected leaders) say was an “extreme partisan gerrymander” designed to cement Republicans’ control of the state delegation in Washington and both houses of the General Assembly.
A 3-judge panel in Wake County Superior Court heard testimony from many experts and arguments from four lawyers representing three plaintiffs and the defendants, and those judges have said they will rule no later than Tuesday. State Supreme Court justices had required a speedy trial when last month they paused candidate filing and delayed the primary from March to May.
Critics of the election maps cite how Democratic voting power was diluted by “packing” and “cracking” areas in which Democrats have voting strength, diluting in some places and concentrating in others.
Guilford County is one of the key areas for “cracking,” because its voters and those in Winston-Salem have been part of the 6th Congressional District, but the new maps split those areas into four districts (three for Guilford) that stretch for hundreds of miles.
Legislators in defending the maps said they referenced neither partisan voting data nor demographic data when drawing district lines, again touting their transparency by streaming the process through public networks.
But that argument was diluted by Hall’s revelation, which is what gets us to Harrison.
Back on Aug. 18, Harrison submitted a draft proposal to the joint committees that she said in an email was based on a letter the advocates had sent to legislators on Aug. 2. She said that letter raised issues she had brought up in the first meeting of the joint committee on redistricting.
She said her proposal included other concerns the public had expressed based on their 2019 experiences (when courts ordered the most recent redraw of voting districts).
“It would have given the public more confidence that the process would be transparent and fair,” said Harrison, a member of the House Committee on Redistricting (which Hall chaired).
Rep. Jon Hardister (R-Guilford), Rep. Cecil Brockman (D-Guilford), and Rep. Lee Zachary (R-Yadkinville) also are part of that 20-person group.
Hall then stunningly testified about strategy sessions for drawing maps that were conducted in a private room and how maps devised there then were “created” during the streaming public sessions that lawmakers said were so transparent.
These “concept maps,” which Hall described as having been brought into the public room by his staff lawyer, Dylan Reel, are “currently lost and no longer exist.” Hall said that process applied only to the maps drawn for the state House.
In closing arguments on Thursday, attorney Hilary Klein representing Common Cause – which, along with the North Carolina League of Conservation Voters and the so-called Harper complainants, is a plaintiff in the case – spoke about how Harrison had proposed disclosing the names of third parties who were part of the redistricting process.
“That seems prescient based on what we have since learned,” she said. “[State Sen. Ralph] Hise [R-McDowell, co-chair of the Senate Redistricting Committee] didn’t allow the proposal to go to a vote.”
She said testimony showed “why those transparency measures” weren’t adopted. “They were rife with lapses in transparency,” Klein said.
Harrison’s 9-step plan included a timeline, specificity even for the quality of audio and video produced from the committee, and then the passage (item 6) that addressed disclosure:
“The Committees should immediately disclose all consultants and counsel to members and committees of either house of the General Assembly who is paid by State funds who will be participating in the redistricting process. Such disclosure should occur within 24 hours of adoption of this criteria or engagement, whichever occurs first.”
Harrison called Hall’s revelation “a bit of a bombshell” and said in a separate email that “I don’t think any of us in the minority party had any knowledge of these ‘concept’ maps used to draw the House maps.
“Clearly the use of those maps undermined the leadership’s own stated rules for map drawing.”
- Forsyth County will hold the reins of the Joint Legislative Committee on Access to Healthcare and Medicaid Expansion. State. Sen. Joyce Krawiec (R-Forsyth) and state Rep. Donny Lambeth (R-Winston-Salem) were named co-chairs by their respective leaders. North Carolina is one of 12 states not to have expanded Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, and lawmakers have grappled with that issue for the past two terms. Rep. Larry Potts (R-Davidson) is one of the group’s vice chairs. No others from the Triad were named.
- State Sen. Leader Phil Berger (R-Rockingham) named himself to a similar interim group called the Joint Legislative Oversight Committee on Medicaid and NC Health Choice. Krawiec also is on that panel. Berger announced his full slate of 25 interim committees for the upcoming “short session.”
- Krawiec also announced she is serving on the Joint Legislative Oversight Committee on Capital Improvements, Joint Legislative Commission on Governmental Operations, Joint Legislative Oversight Committee on Health and Human Services and the Joint Legislative Oversight Committee on Justice and Public Safety.