Hunter vows return; where is unknown

Published 10:10 am Tuesday, September 12, 2017

RALEIGH – The two men, although related, are different.

So will be the area of North Carolina they represent in Raleigh.

Howard Hunter III is currently in his second term as the District 5 member of the North Carolina House of Representatives. That district is comprised of all of Gates, Bertie and Hertford counties and a portion of Pasquotank.

His late father, Howard Hunter Jr., was elected nine times to that same District 5 seat. He served 19 years in the NC House before passing away on Jan. 7, 2007. Then, District 5 covered Bertie, Gates, Hertford, Perquimans and Northampton counties.

Rep. Howard Hunter III

Now, a proposal to redraw certain legislative districts across North Carolina due to what the federal courts have determined as “racially gerrymandered” areas leaves Hunter III in limbo as to who he will represent.

The new maps, approved along basic party lines by both chambers of the North Carolina General Assembly (the House and Senate are ruled by Republican majority), have been forwarded to the federal courts for their approval. Whether or not the federal justices rule in favor of the altered maps or send them back to the state legislators for another round of tweaking remains to be seen. However, these districts must to finalized prior to the 2018 election cycle.

“The district I currently represent will change,” said Rep. Hunter. “We do not yet know how. It’s too early to say what has been proposed will be the new district in the 2018 elections. The courts will have their say.”

However, one thing is for certain…Hunter, an Ahoskie Democrat, will seek reelection.

“In the new map, District 5 would consist of Hertford, Gates and Pasquotank counties. I plan run for whatever county grouping the courts decide,” Hunter stated. “The court will review the maps and decide if they are acceptable.

“You may have heard or read something about North Carolina and redistricting. Here is a quick recap of what is going on and what happens next,” Hunter said.

Every decade the United States conducts a census to count its population.  Once the new numbers are finalized, the NC General Assembly changes the district lines for the NC House, NC State Senate, and U.S. Congress so that the districts are equal in population. This is redistricting and it was last performed in 2011.

The 2011 NC House and NC Senate maps were drawn by a newly-elected GOP majority.

“Their maps gave them a super-majority that still exists today,” Hunter said.

Opponents went to the state court arguing the maps were illegal.

“The NC Supreme Court upheld the maps, but soon after a United States Supreme Court decision held that Alabama maps (similar to ours) were illegal racial gerrymanders,” Hunter remarked.

Another lawsuit was filed and a three judge federal panel ruled the NC House and NC Senate maps were unconstitutional.  The US Supreme Court agreed in a unanimous decision.

“So the maps we used in the 2016 are gone, never to be used again,” Hunter noted. “We are now in the process of coming up with new maps. In roughly one-third of North Carolina, the districts will not change because these districts were not found unconstitutional and they are not close to districts that were found unconstitutional. The rest of the state gets new districts.”

Despite the approval of the newly drawn maps by both chambers of the General Assembly, Hunter stressed that he felt they were just as illegal and unfair as the old maps.

He noted that State Attorney General Josh Stein won last year’s election.

“Yet if you look at how many of the 120 NC House districts he won under the new maps, he won only 42 seats or 35 percent of the NC House. So a candidate who wins a majority of the votes ends up in a super-minority of legislative seats,” Hunter noted,

Hunter and other House Democrats voted no on the redistricting plan, along with a few Republicans.

The new maps will now be reviewed by the federal three judge panel. The judges could: (1) accept the maps; (2) reject the maps and order the General Assembly to try again; or (3) reject the maps and order the use of judicially created maps for the 2018 elections.

“While this judicial review is going on, there is an entirely separate, but related, judicial review going on,” Hunter said. “North Carolina’s 2011 maps were tossed out for being racial gerrymanders.  They are also partisan gerrymanders, but no redistricting plan has ever been invalidated for being too partisan.  That could change soon as the US Supreme Court takes up Wisconsin’s partisan gerrymander in a case this fall.”

To add to the confusion, Hunter stressed there is still yet another judicial review going on.

“Remember that the 2011 North Carolina maps were first challenged in state court and upheld by the NC Supreme Court,” he said. “That case was appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. After its decision in the Alabama case, which jump-started the invalidation of our maps, the U.S. Supreme Court ordered the state case back to the NC Supreme Court for reconsideration. It is still pending and a hearing was recently held before the seven justices of the NC Supreme Court.”

Finally, Hunter said there is the possibility of more lawsuits being filed.

“So to recap: federal courts are involved, state courts are involved, several lawsuits are still pending, and more could be coming.  The only thing certain is it will all end with the 2020 census when the process starts anew,” Hunter concluded.

About Cal Bryant

Cal Bryant, a 40-year veteran of the newspaper industry, serves as the Editor at Roanoke-Chowan Publications, publishers of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald, Gates County Index, and Front Porch Living magazine.

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