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5 Things to Know: New NC District Maps Approved, Filing Begins

...and four more stories from Feb. 20-26, 2022

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NC district maps
The new NC congressional district maps. (Courtesy of NC Board of Elections)

Court approves NC district maps, candidate filing begins

After a protracted legal battle, North Carolina has finally settled on election maps for 2022. On Wednesday evening, the North Carolina Supreme Court upheld a set of voting maps that had been approved by a Wake County trial court earlier that day, including NC House, NC Senate, and NC congressional district maps (pictured above). The ruling allowed candidates statewide to resume election filing on Thursday. 

The Republican majority trial court authorized the electoral districts for state House and Senate that North Carolina lawmakers finalized last week. However, it threw out the proposed congressional map and replaced it with one designed with the assistance of three independent redistricting experts. These “special masters” created maps said to be more competitive for Democratic candidates.

The new NC district maps place a majority of Mecklenburg County in Congressional District 12, as it was before, though the southwestern portion of the county is now in District 14, which also consists of Gaston and Cleveland counties along with the eastern half of Rutherford County. Current U.S. Rep. Alma Adams will remain in District 12.  

Immediately after the ruling passed, GOP politicians and voting rights groups filed several emergency appeals. In a statement on Thursday, NC House Speaker Tim Moore decried the lower court’s decision. 

“Today’s ruling is nothing short of egregious,” he wrote. “The trial court’s decision to impose a map drawn by anyone other than the legislature is simply unconstitutional and an affront to every North Carolina voter whose representation would be determined by unelected, partisan activists.”

However, Republican NC Senate leader Phil Berger affirmed the decision in his own statement the same day. 

“We disagree with the interim Congressional map imposed by the Special Masters and are seeking a stay of that map, however, it’s time to move on and allow the filing period to begin tomorrow morning,” Berger’s statement read. 

The political drama carried on through the start of the filing period with several high-profile candidates reacting to the decision. Sen. Jeff Jackson, who dropped out of the U.S. Senate race in December, announced Friday that he will join the race for U.S. House in the 14th District. The redrawn 13th District now excludes a group of voters who were seeking to disqualify Rep. Madison Cawthorn from this year’s election due to his involvement with the Jan. 6 insurrection. 

The filing period ends at noon on Mar. 4. 


Observer employees form union, seek voluntary recognition

On Friday, Charlotte Observer employees announced via Twitter that they had formed the Charlotte Observer News Guild in order to create “a firm future for the newspaper.” In its mission statement, the Guild proposed that “fair and equitable pay, transparency from our leadership and a guarantee of continued opportunities for future generations of Observer journalists,” are crucial to that future.

First published 136 years ago, The Charlotte Observer is far from the first publication in the Carolinas to unionize in recent years. The State, a paper based in Columbia, South Carolina, elected to unionize in March 2021

Like the Charlotte Observer, The State is owned by McClatchy, a news company that manages about 30 publications across the United States. McClatchy declared bankruptcy in February 2020, blaming a pension plan crisis and the decline of print newspaper circulation. Chatham Asset Management, a New Jersey-based hedge fund, took over the company that fall.

The Charlotte Observer News Guild stated that “instability and cuts” from McClatchy’s bankruptcy and subsequent purchase contributed to their decision to unionize.

“Too many talented colleagues have walked out the door in recent years,” its mission statement reads.

McClatchy voluntarily recognized The State News Guild in 2021. The Charlotte Observer News Guild remains hopeful that it will gain voluntary recognition. 

“We’re stronger together. Here’s to continuing everything we’ve built here at [the Observer],” the Guild tweeted Friday.  


CMPD Issues Warrant for CATS Murder Suspect

CMPD investigators on Monday identified a suspect in the ongoing investigation into the murder of CATS employee Ethan Rivera. CMPD issued two warrants for the arrest of 21-year-old Darian Dru Thavychith. 

The shooting took place on Feb. 11 near Truist Ballpark in Uptown Charlotte. In what was reportedly a road rage-related incident, the driver of a black Honda SUV shot and killed bus driver Ethan Rivera. Rivera, 41, was a father of two and had been working for CATS for just over a year. 

Ethan Rivera’s family has launched a GoFundMe.

CMPD did not say whether Thavychith was in custody. He is wanted for murder and discharging a weapon into an occupied property. 

Meanwhile, CATS employees are calling upon the city to provide better protection to bus drivers. On Feb. 18, employees launched what they called “A Day of Action in Support of Operators.”  That day, 176 bus drivers called out from their morning shift, and that evening, a group of Rivera’s colleagues gathered at the site of his death to demand more safety and security measures. Some of those demands include bullet-resistant partitions, security on evening routes, and working phones in all vehicles.  


CMS to lift mask mandate on March 7

On Tuesday, the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools Board of Education unanimously voted to end the district’s mask mandate. This decision came less than a week after Gov. Roy Cooper announced on Feb. 17 that he would no longer mandate mask wearing in public schools. 

“During almost two years of facing the impact of COVID in our schools and community, we have learned a lot about this virus,” Superintendent Earnest Winston said at Tuesday’s board meeting. “To put it in simple terms, we are going to have to live with COVID. Fortunately, we have more tools in our arsenal to protect ourselves and others.”

Winston noted that the reaction from school employees to make masks optional was “mixed.” Still, he said the rates of COVID-19 infection and vaccination made him confident enough to make that recommendation. 

“Individual students, staff and visitors may make their choice on whether or not to wear (masks) indoors,” Winston said.

The federal mask mandate is still in effect, meaning students and employees must wear their masks on school buses. But when the policy goes into effect on Mar. 7, mask wearing will be optional in all qualifying public school facilities.


Analyzing Charlotte’s risky roads

On Feb. 23, the Charlotte Observer published an analysis of traffic accident data for the city of Charlotte in recent years. Over the last decade, motor vehicle crashes rose by 41%. Fatal crashes are also up.

 

Data from the North Carolina Department of Transportation indicates that Charlotte had the most crashes of any city in North Carolina, clocking in at 126,479. The NCDOT identified drunk driving and speeding as notable factors in Charlotte’s accidents, noting that 61% of vehicles involved in fatal crashes exceeded the local posted speed limits by over 10 miles per hour.

Five people were killed after being struck by cars last week, including two women killed while walking near East W.T. Harris Boulevard after an alleged drunk driver caused a crash that sent another car careening into them. It was a discouraging stretch for a city actively working to minimize traffic deaths.


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