Guest Opinion: A few New Year’s resolutions for NC politics

Published 12:56 pm Wednesday, February 10, 2021

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By Bob Phillips

A new year has arrived, and with it, new hopes and resolutions. On the political front, here are some goals for North Carolina as state lawmakers return to Raleigh for the 2021 legislative session.

Ensure fair redistricting

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This year our state will draw new congressional and legislative districts intended to be in place for the next decade. The redistricting process has long been controlled by the legislature, and the result has often been gerrymandered maps that deprive voters of a real voice in our elections.

Fortunately, landmark state court rulings in recent years have made clear that gerrymandering is unconstitutional in North Carolina. But the temptation to manipulate voting districts remains a siren song for partisan politicians. In order to avoid illegal map-rigging, the redistricting process in 2021 must be nonpartisan, with robust public input and full transparency.

The irony is that much of the current legislative leadership on both sides of the aisle have supported redistricting reform at some point. Democrats have been on board for reform ever since they lost power a decade ago. The top Republican leaders in the legislature, House Speaker Tim Moore and Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger, are both on record as sponsoring comprehensive redistricting reform, albeit when their party was out of power. Common Cause will be reminding all that their push for ending gerrymandering was a good idea then, now and always. We will invite lawmakers to be bold and give the people of North Carolina what they want: fair voting maps.

Protect voting rights

The 2020 election saw record turnout in North Carolina, made possible in large part to a variety of options for voters, including absentee voting by mail, early voting and same-day registration. This unprecedented voter participation shows that both sides of the aisle can do well when more people cast a ballot. Lawmakers should work in a bipartisan way to strengthen access to the polls, and not return to the ugly attempts at voter suppression that marred our state’s reputation in the past. This session should not be about making voting harder.

Seek racial justice

Last year, our nation reignited a long overdue reckoning for racial injustice. It’s crucial for this work to continue in 2021. Equal access to the ballot box and fairly drawn voting districts are important parts of this process. There are many other key policies to pursue as well. From addressing inequalities in criminal justice and policing, to ensuring equitable support for communities of color and funding for North Carolina’s Historically Black Colleges and Universities, our state must take meaningful steps forward. Clearly, we cannot have a democracy that is of, by and for all people until our nation’s shameful legacy of white supremacy is defeated and true equity is achieved.

Combat big money in politics

The influence of big money continues to pervade American politics. North Carolina was once a beacon for common-sense campaign finance reform, with a successful program of public funding for statewide judicial races that helped protect the integrity of our courts. In a wrongheaded move, the legislature gutted that program in 2013. It’s time to restore public financing for our judicial elections and enact additional reforms so North Carolinians can have complete confidence that our government serves all people, and not just wealthy special interests.

Bridge the broadband gap

The COVID-19 crisis has brought into focus a digital divide in North Carolina as schools moved to online instruction amid the pandemic. Some areas of North Carolina continue to suffer from poor internet connectivity. A lack of affordable, high-speed internet affects everything from educational and employment opportunities, to accessing telemedicine and participating in our democratic society. We need to close the broadband gap so communities aren’t left behind.

These are just some of a long list of to-do items this year. But each will help us build a thriving and inclusive democracy in North Carolina. Let’s get to work.

Bob Phillips is executive director of Common Cause NC.