Last week I wrote a column addressing how the North Carolina budget is a failure of government. In it, I mentioned the supermajority in North Carolina by calling it “unrepresentative.” But the idea of the supermajority deserves to be more than a supporting fact in a larger argument — the supermajority is a manifestation of the self-interest present in our state’s politics. It is much less a small factor affecting concepts like the budget, and much more the driving force behind many of the largest issues that plague our state.
For those unaware, a supermajority is when there are enough representatives of one party in the General Assembly to overrule any veto, regardless of the governor. In this case, it is the Republican Party, who has held a supermajority since the 2012 election. The power to override a veto is one that the General Assembly isn't afraid to use either; they used it four out of six times against Pat McCrory, and are ramping up to overrule the Cooper’s veto of the budget as well.
But overruling a veto isn't much to be distressed about — after all it is an explicit function of the government. The real problem comes when considering whether this supermajority is actually representing the issues that the people of North Carolina care about with representative consideration of both sides of debate. The short answer is that it's not, not at all.
The fact is that North Carolina’s party affiliation is fairly split between Democrats and Republicans. A study from the Pew Research Center in 2014 (while the Republicans had a supermajority) found that North Carolina’s party affiliations are split 41 percent “Republican/lean Republican,” 43 percent “Democrat/lean Democrat” and 17 percent “no lean.” In contrast, after the 2016 House of Representatives election, Republicans ended up with 74 seats, while Democrats only ended up with 46. Very representative.
This disproportionate representation is the source of many problems in our state. It means that issues only receive a Republican perspective when being addressed through legislation, if they are even able to be addressed at all.
Further, this means that issues like teacher pay and tuition laws aren't addressed to a level of public satisfaction and that gun reform within the state is barely addressed. It also means that reproductive rights can be attacked and the citizens have no voice to prevent it. All the while, laws like House Bill 2 — which was passed in 2016 — can humiliate our state, and even when they are repealed, it’s only a partial repeal, because of this supermajority.
That's the reason people have been marching about issues like these recently in North Carolina; it’s the reason you see things like the Women’s March, the March for our Lives, and the Red for Ed March on TV and social media, not because people are happy with the way the General Assembly is “representing” them.
There’s an election for the General Assembly in 2018, and I wish this was one of those issues where I could end right now by saying something like “go out and vote!” and we all would live happily ever after. But unfortunately for North Carolina, it's not that simple. There's a reason things are the way that they are: gerrymandering.
You don't get a supermajority of 109 out of 170 seats in the General Assembly of a split state like NC without some help from the districts being drawn in your favor, and a federal court agreed when it struck down the district maps.
Gerrymandering has caused a state that could otherwise thrive as an example of bipartisan leadership to fall to the vices of political polarization and party self-preservation. It's an issue that cuts deep into the General Assembly and can be traced back all the way to the 2011 legislative maps drawn by the GOP. These racially gerrymandered maps have since been replaced, but by nothing much better, as the replacement maps have also been subjected to gerrymandering.
That’s seven years of political wrongdoing by Republicans that has to be overcome, and doing it is going to take more than going out and voting for representatives under districts that are still gerrymandered. Gerrymandering is what keeps the supermajority alive, and the supermajority is what keeps issues, like gerrymandering, from being addressed. To kill the supermajority the people of North Carolina need to vote in 2018, and they need to keep voting afterward.
That's why actual representation is going to take time. As it stands now, it is extremely unlikely that the Democrats win a representative amount of seats in the General Assembly in the fall; that is a goal for the future. For now, we need to encourage people to vote to simply break the supermajority, which only holds on by four seats in the House.
One of the most likely to flip would be House District 36 in Wake County, according to “Flip NC,” an organization dedicated to breaking the supermajority. This means that the people of Raleigh and Wake County have an opportunity to make real change in an otherwise dismal scenario.
To miss this opportunity to vote would be abandoning the foundations of a representative democracy. Until the day that North Carolina becomes both a representative and functioning state, its residents must vote, march and stand for a form of government that values them all proportionally.