Stephenson v. Bartlett – The Forgotten Reason Why the NC GOP Won the Majority in 2010

by johndavis, December 8, 2010

Post:  December 2, 2010       Volume III, No. 1 “According to Davis, the number of Senate seats competitive for both major political parties has dropped from 14 out of 50 under the 1992 Senate Plan to only 6 out of 50 under the 2001 Senate Plan. Similarly, Davis asserts that the number of competitive House seats
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Post:  December 2, 2010       Volume III, No. 1

According to Davis, the number of Senate seats competitive for both major political parties has dropped from 14 out of 50 under the 1992 Senate Plan to only 6 out of 50 under the 2001 Senate Plan. Similarly, Davis asserts that the number of competitive House seats has dropped from 32 out of 120 under the 1992 House Plan to only 14 out of 120 under the 2001 House Plan.” NC Supreme Court opinion, Stephenson v. Bartlett, citing deposition of John Davis, NCFREE Executive Director

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Stephenson v. Bartlett – The Forgotten Reason Why the NC GOP Won the Majority in 2010

One month ago today, November 2, 2010, North Carolina Republicans made history by winning the majority of the seats in the state Senate and House of Representatives.  There are three primary reasons the GOP prevailed:

  1. Weak and divided Democratic leadership which lost the campaign $ advantage … during a GOP wave election year.
  2. Strong and united Republican leadership which achieved campaign $ parity …      during a GOP wave election year.
  3. Stephenson v. Bartlett case of 2002 that led to a leveling of partisan districts

The Stephenson v. Bartlett case is the historic redistricting decision handed down by the NC Supreme Court in 2002 that threw out the brazenly gerrymandered maps drawn by legislative Democrats after the 2000 census.  That case led to the leveling of the partisan playing field throughout the decade.

Without Stephenson v. Bartlett, the number of state senate and house districts drawn to favor Democrats would likely have been too great to overcome, even in 2010 with a strong Republican leadership team and GOP-friendly momentum.

I had the pleasure of serving as an impartial witness in the Stephenson v. Bartlett case in 2002, and was honored that my testimony was cited in the written opinion of the NC Supreme Court.  Here are the facts before and after Stephenson v. Bartlett:

NC Senate Democrats from 12-Seat Advantage to 0-Seat Advantage

  • In 2001, Democrats in the NC General Assembly drew 28 Senate districts favoring the election of a Democrat and 16 Senate districts favoring the election of a Republican, for a net advantage of 12 districts for the Democrats. There were six swing Senate districts.
  • After the judicially mandated remapping of districts based on the 2002 ruling of the North Carolina Supreme Court in Stephenson v. Bartlett, there were only 22 Senate districts favoring the election of a Democrat and 22 Senate districts favoring the election of a Republican, for a total loss of the advantage for the Democrats. There were six swing Senate districts.

NC House Democrats from 12-Seat Advantage to 4-Seat DISADVANTAGE

  • In 2001, Democrats in the NC General Assembly drew 59 House districts favoring the election of a Democrat and 47 House districts favoring the election of a Republican, for a net advantage of 12 districts.  There were 14 swing House districts.
  • After judicially mandated remapping the districts based on the 2002 ruling of the North Carolina Supreme Court in Stephenson v. Bartlett, there were only 51 districts favoring the election of a Democrat and 55 districts favoring the election of a Republican, for a net loss of 16 districts favoring Democrats when adding the net advantage for Republicans of 4 districts.  There were still 14 swing districts.

So how is it that Democrats have been able to maintain power with a level playing field?  The short answer is lots of money and a strong political leadership team.  Democrats have been masters at parlaying their power into a 70-to-30 campaign spending advantage.  They have also been masters at the fundamentals of winning campaigns.  For many years I have referred to the Senate Democratic Caucus as the national model state legislative political war machine.

However, if you take away their strong Democratic leadership team and their financial advantage, they are left with a level political playing field thanks to the Stephenson v. Bartlett case.  That’s what happened this year.

What made 2010 politically catastrophic for North Carolina Democrats is that they had to deal with an era of corrupt leaders, a Republican-friendly year, a weak governor, a high turnover of incumbents, an unpopular president, state budget problems, a national economic slump, anti-establishment voters, the Tea Party movement, low enthusiasm, low turnout of their base, declining party loyalty, high unemployment, record deficit spending, an unpopular war, a surge in opposition strength, and a loss of the campaign $ advantage … all at the same time.

Meanwhile, Republicans united for the first time as political pragmatists who finally accepted the fact that you can’t govern if you don’t win and you can’t win without money.  Voila!

My sincerest congratulations to the Republican Party leadership and staff, to the GOP Senate Caucus leadership and staff, to the GOP House Caucus leadership and staff, and to all of you Republicans in North Carolina who have been denied the opportunity to have your ideas debated because of heavy-handed Democratic leadership who sent them to the Rules Committee for an early demise.

I hope that Republicans will do a better job than the Democrats at respecting the diversity of opinion in North Carolina …respecting diversity of opinion not just tolerating diversity of opinion.  When it comes to conservative ideology, North Carolina’s liberal Democrats have a history of intolerance equal in every way to intolerant conservatives.

Speaking of respecting diversity of opinion, perhaps the greatest takeaway from the 2010 election cycle is: ignore the priorities of voters at your own peril. Both parties have had to learn that lesson the hard way during this decade.

Well, there you have it.  This is the first John Davis Political Report of the 2011-2012 election cycle.

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