LUMBERTON — One state lawmaker and two political observers see Robeson County residents benefiting from the proposed state House redistricting map that cuts the county’s delegation in half.
“It was the logical thing to do,” said Rep. Ken Goodman, a Democrat whose District 66 will no longer include any of Robeson County.
The proposed map released Saturday leaves the county represented by only two House lawmakers, Tabor City resident Brenden Jones, a Republican, in District 46, and Lumberton resident Charles Graham, a Democrat, in District 47. Each lawmaker would represent about half the county, No. 47 to the west and No. 46 to the east. Rep. Garland Pierce, a Democrat from Wagram who has represented District 48 since 2004, also would be cut out of the county. He is the senior member of the local delegation.
The positive for Robeson County would be having two representatives who could focus more on the county’s residents and better address their legislative needs, Goodman said. As it stands now, he represents only about 5,000 people in the northeast corner of Robeson County that abuts Cumberland County. The county has about 130,000 residents.
His current district also includes all or parts of Hoke, Montgomery, Richmond and Scotland counties, Goodman said. That meant trying to represent five county governments, five school districts and each county’s municipal governments.
The proposed map keeps counties as whole as possible, Goodman said. It creates clusters of counties that are more compact. In his case the cluster includes Richmond and Montgomery counties and part of Stanly County.
“Geographically, it is a much more compact district,” Goodman said.
He would be happy to keep his small part of Robeson County, Goodman said. He made friends in Robeson County, friends he intends to keep.
“I really enjoyed working with the people of Robeson County,” he said. “They really treated me well, and I enjoyed representing Robeson County.”
A statewide public hearing is scheduled for Tuesday at 4 p.m., with the nearest place to attend being Fayetteville Technical Community College, located at 2201 Hull Road. State lawmakers are expected to finalize new House and Senate district lines this week and give final approval next week.
A proposed Senate map was released Sunday. Senate District 13, which includes all of Robeson and Columbus counties, is unchanged. Danny Britt, a Lumberton Republican, is in his first term representing District 13.
Rep. Brenden Jones is not ready to comment on the new House map, a staff member said. He wants to have all available information before commenting.
“There are many factors, including a redistricting committee this week, possible amendments, and the court’s decision to consider before the maps are finalized,” Andrew Bailey said via email.
Graham and Pierce could not be reached.
The proposed House districts could benefit Robeson County because they are drawn in a way that gives the incumbents a good chance of winning re-election, said Joe Stewart, executive director of the North Carolina FreeEnterprise Foundation, a nonprofit and nonpartisan political research organization. Winning re-election allows the incumbents, Jones in District 46 and Graham in District 47, to gain seniority, which allows them more opportunities to shape statewide policy.
Voting data from the 2016 presidential election supports the re-election possibility. In District 46, as drawn on the proposed map, 61.5 percent of the voters voted for Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump. Jones is a Republican. In District 47, only 46.4 percent voted for Trump. Graham is a Democrat.
“Likely an incumbent in either district will be able to hold on to the district,” Stewart said.
But the voting pattern in a presidential election is only one factor, he said. Voters may vote differently in state elections, perhaps voting for an individual candidate regardless of party affiliation. The party in power at the time of the election also could affect voter turnout and voting outcomes.
“All things being equal, these districts look pretty strong for the incumbents in them,” Stewart said.
Members of the Robeson County Republican Party have “mixed feelings” about the proposed map, party Chairman Phillip Stephens said. Changing lines to fix one part of the state inevitably affects other parts of the state.
“Robeson is reduced to fewer legislators representing Robeson regardless of whether they are Democrat or Republican,” Stephens said. “That could be good or bad depending on your perspective. So it isn’t a partisan concern that we have fewer representatives. But with just two there is the potential for more balance though fewer actual members of the Robeson delegation.”
While Republicans control both chambers and can draw the boundaries to their liking, the new legislative maps will be reviewed by a three-judge panel of federal judges. They are not subject to Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper’s veto.
Republicans currently hold 74 of the 120 House seats and 35 of the 50 Senate seats. Not all districts had to be redrawn because of the 28 House and Senate districts found to be illegal.
The districts were court-ordered to be redrawn when it was determined that Republicans when drawing the maps stacked some districts with too many blacks, effectively diluting their voting strength in nearby districts.
T.C. Hunter can be reached at 910-816-1974.