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OPINION: In NC, Democracy Is Throttled and Left for Dead

In NC, Democracy Is Throttled and Left for Dead. (AdobeStock)
In NC, Democracy Is Throttled and Left for Dead. (AdobeStock)

Harry Taylor is a longtime Charlotte-area activist and founder of the Flush GerryMander blog

On Sept. 28, I drove to Hickory, North Carolina to testify at yet another redistricting/map-making hearing. Yes, we’re at it again.

When the GOP won a 5-2 majority in the state supreme court in November, that body — in an unprecedented action — overturned late 2022 cases on which the ink was still wet. Among those was one that gave the Republican legislature unencumbered freedom to redraw the election district maps used in 2022.

We’ve known this was coming, and now it’s here. Last week the Joint Redistricting Committee quietly scheduled three meetings where the public could view and comment on maps, and instruct their legislature about what they want to see.

Yet there are no maps — at least none they admit to drawing — no explanations and no plans. A hasty call for comments with a vote ostensibly scheduled for Oct. 9, which has come and gone with no news. My testimony in Hickory included this: “It’s a good bet that the new maps have already been drawn — in secret — are now hidden deep within someone’s computer — and are rigged to the hilt.”

Apparently, that wasn’t far off the mark. Before the week was out, we learned that Republicans included — in the state budget passed in late September — a provision stating the public is not entitled to see legislators’ draft maps and communications when redistricting.

The maps that emerge from the clandestine process will be used for the next eight years over four election cycles. The GOP already owns a super-majority on both sides of the legislature. It’s the same GOP that has been conducting “a relentless and ongoing effort to transfer more and more executive powers to the Legislative Building and further gerrymander legislative maps for the 2024 election; it’s easy to foresee a scenario in 2025 in which a new governor – be they a Democrat or a Republican – will be rendered a virtual figurehead,” writes Rob Schofield in NC Newsline.

For all practical purposes, North Carolina no longer has a functioning democracy. A single political party controls every state court — including the supreme court — the legislature, and has neutered the executive branch. They can now pass anything they want, anytime they want, without consulting Democrats or Gov. Roy Cooper.

Also tucked into the long-delayed budget, lawmakers gifted themselves something called “legislative privilege.” It allows them to keep secret any document made or received during their service … in all instances … including the aforementioned draft maps and communications about redistricting. It is, in fact, a license to operate entirely in the dark.

That same budget permits the legislature’s GovOps staff “to enter all state and local government agencies, the offices of government contractors and charities receiving state support to demand access to all records, including those deemed confidential.”

Should a person transmit the existence of such an investigation — to a superior, the media, or anyone else — the transgressor will be subject to a criminal penalty, leading opponents to refer to the newly empowered GovOps staff as a “secret police force.”

And worst of all, the ability to rig election maps means those responsible cannot be voted from power. With the new Supreme Court under the legislature’s control, no state court will curtail their power. It’s a raid on The People’s democracy.

Past examples

All this has happened before — to a tragic end — as described in a 2018, Vox Media essay, “It Happened There: How democracy died in Hungary.

The gist is this: A former member of the Hungarian parliament, Zsuzsanna Szelényi, entered politics as a pro-democracy activist in the late 1980s, when Hungarian communism was in its death throes. Among her fellow activists in the Fidesz Party was Viktor Orbán, Hungary’s prime minister today. Szelényi left the party in 1994 after Orbán seized total control of the party’s internal decision-making and shifted its ideology to the right.

In April 2018, Fidesz won the national elections, cementing Orbán’s hold on power; international monitors concluded that the opposition never had a fair chance.

“Over the course of his eight years in power, Prime Minister Orbán has chipped away at the foundations of Hungarian democracy … replaced with an authoritarian regime that wields a cynical interpretation of the law as a weapon; the country is governed by rules . . . [and] . . . regulations that can seem reasonable on their face but actually serve to undermine essential democratic freedoms,” writes Zack Beauchamp.

Szelényi says most observers didn’t understand what Orbán was up to until it was too late. Authoritarianism in modern Hungary came on quietly and relatively recently. “He benefited from the supermajority so quickly that no one really realized” what happened. (A supermajority like that which has crushed North Carolina democracy.)

“The parliament is a decoration for a one-party state. Hungary is not a democracy anymore.”

Terrifying stuff! Add this from former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee on his Sept. 5 TBN show, Huckabee. While accusing President Biden of trying to “destroy Trump” via legal actions, Huckabee made this threat: “Here’s the problem: If these tactics end up working to keep Trump from winning or even running in 2024, it is going to be the last American election that will be decided by ballots rather than bullets.”

According to the non-profit Freedom House, “In every region of the world, democracy is under attack by populist leaders and groups that reject pluralism and demand unchecked power to advance the particular interests of their supporters, usually at the expense of minorities and other perceived foes.”

Our homeland is clearly among those as we face the most dangerous threat in our history. Hungary’s plight forewarns of the risks, the North Carolina legislature kicks it all off with a brazen “inside job”, and Mike Huckabee threatens to unleash a hail of bullets to make sure it happens.

The root of the carnage? Gerrymandering, plain and simple!

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