Fresh Eyes: A conservative case against redistricting

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by Matthew Stafford

At first glance, state Sen. Trudy Wade’s Greensboro redistricting bill seems like a pretty good deal for Greensboro conservatives and libertarians. Several council members with a rather liberal bent will be crammed into the same district and forced to run against each other, and at least four members will be forced out of office. Meanwhile business oriented (read: conservative) voters would have a greater share of the representation. So why should conservatives oppose this? Conservative Councilman Zack Matheny summed it up best:

“As a Republican, I look at it and I’m like this is big government controlling the people,” he told the News & Record.

Speaking as someone who has some moderately conservative leanings, I have to agree with Matheny: This is a terrible idea for Greensboro. I’ll go even further and say that it’s completely anti-conservative and a bad long-term idea for North Carolina conservatives.

Conservatism is all about state’s rights and local control. Most conservatives would rather not have higher levels of government intervene in lower levels unless there is something of disaster proportion going on and the on-the-ground powers in the municipalities and states cannot handle the problem on their own. Some of them, like those on the fringe of the far right, feel that even in those circumstances the federal government shouldn’t get involved. This is at least part of the reason the North Carolina legislature, Sen. Wade included, has rejected the Medicaid expansion.

The other fear is that if higher levels of government get involved in local affairs, even for something that on paper has a good purpose, it’ll be a slippery slope to tyranny by that higher level — a fear that seems to dominate the thinking of many conservatives in politics. However, for some reason nobody can understand, the slippery-slope theory has not crossed the minds of Sen. Wade or the other Raleigh Senate Republicans who want to meddle in Greensboro politics. Though, to their credit, some state House members, Republicans included, are expressing trepidation about the proposal, largely over aforementioned local-control concerns.

Evidently, Wade has also neglected to ask what happens when the shoe gets planted on the other foot. All politics is cyclical. There is no such thing as a permanent majority no matter how much gerrymandering is done. Eventually, the other party will regain control. Whether it’s because the Republicans tick off a large amount people or because of changes in the demographic, the fact is, it will happen.

If Wade’s half-baked idea succeeds, what happens when the Democrats of the state get in control and someone randomly decides to start tinkering in conservative municipal affairs because they “feel” liberal groups and interests are not represented on those city councils to their personal satisfaction? What will conservatives say? What can they say? Any remarks about local control will be countered with, “State Republicans redid Greensboro’s council in 2015 because someone ‘felt’ it should be done.”

Furthermore, should Wade and her Senate cohorts win any court challenges to Senate Bill 36, conservatives will have no recourse whatsoever when the shoe is on the other foot. The precedent is set, the can of worms is opened and the horse is out of the barn. There will be nothing stopping a Democrat-controlled legislature from redrawing conservative city or town councils at their leisure to suit their “feelings” the way Sen. Wade is trying to redraw Greensboro’s to suit hers.

This plan is shortsighted and flies in the face of conservative principles. Even though I don’t agree with everything Vaughan and the council have done, I will defend their right to act as city council and the right of Greensboro voters to elect them.

If this plan has merit, let the people of Greensboro, and only the people of Greensboro, vote on it and I will defend that result come whatever may. Letting the state restructure the city council merely because a state senator and some business leaders “feel” that they should without offering anything resembling a concrete reason why is just going to drag the entire state on a very dangerous path. Greensboro, not Raleigh, should decide who runs Greensboro.

Matthew Stafford is a civil rights advocate from Greensboro.

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