Since state lawmakers released new congressional district maps earlier this month, it’s as if they’ve launched a political version of “Survivor” seeing which candidates can outwit, outsmart and outplay one another.
There’s a lot to unpack in the days since the map’s release.
Last week, U.S. Rep. G.K. Butterfield surprised many by announcing his retirement from Congress.
A week earlier, U.S. Rep. Madison Cawthorn declared himself a candidate in a district outside of his home causing a ripple effect throughout southwest North Carolina.
Rumors were rampant that Senate candidates Mark Walker might switch to congressional races any day now.
And state lawmakers have begun announcing their consideration or decision to run for higher office.
While North Carolina politicians are playing musical chairs, there’s a more important issue on the table than who is going to run: Several lawsuits are challenging whether the maps were illegally gerrymandered.
Republicans argued that they had no reason to intentionally create majority-minority districts because there wasn’t racially polarized voting in North Carolina, The News & Observer previous reported.
What you need to know
Every 10 years, lawmakers are required to redraw the state’s congressional maps based on collected census data.
North Carolina’s population grew enough to earn the state a 14th representative in Congress.
State lawmakers created a map with eight Republican districts and three Democratic districts.
That leaves three districts up for grabs: the 2nd, 4th and 14th, though the latter two lean so Republican it would be hard to flip those seats.
The 2nd Congressional District, where Butterfield, a Democrat, now resides, has a marginal number of residents who tend to vote Democrat. That is the district where a flip, if it happens, would be most likely.
Who is running?
There are districts that can expect to see their incumbents return to Congress.
Opponents have not yet surfaced to challenge U.S. Reps. Greg Murphy, Deborah Ross, Alma Adams, Virginia Foxx and Patrick McHenry of the 1st, 5th, 9th, 11th and 12th Districts, respectively.
Senate candidate Richard Watkins, a Democrat, switched to a congressional run in the 6th District.
Former state Sen. Erica Smith, a Democrat, followed Watkins’ lead and left the Senate race to run in the 2nd Congressional District. She filed the paperwork to do so Friday night.
Former U.S. Rep. Mark Walker, a Republican, spent the past two years campaigning for the U.S. Senate but is rumored to be launching a 7th District race, where state Rep. Jon Hardister, a Republican, is also considering a run.
The 6th, 7th and 14th have already drawn a large number of candidates and with Butterfield out the 2nd District is expected to do the same with people like Smith and state Sen. Don Davis, a Democrat, considering a run.
Other races seemed to have been a given for some candidates.
But the Republican Cawthorn threw everyone off when he made a surprise announcement two weeks ago.
Lawmakers drew the current 11th District representative’s home into the new 14th District and slightly diluted his Republican base.
Cawthorn responded by announcing that he would run in the 13th District instead. The 13th District includes Gaston, Cleveland, Burke, McDowell, Rutherford, Polk and parts of Mecklenburg.
The 13th District is believed to have been hand drawn for Republican N.C. House Speaker Tim Moore. Just hours after Cawthorn announced his change, Moore announced he would run for reelection instead of running for Congress.
That left many wondering which of Cawthorn’s challengers would chase him to the 13th District. So far only Josh Remillard, a Democrat, has done so.
It also left rumors of who Cawthorn had in mind to replace him in the 14th District with many suggesting he would throw his support to Michele Woodhouse, the 11th District’s GOP chairwoman. The new 14th District is made up of the 15 counties in western North Carolina, which partially was the 11th District.
Woodhouse made her run official last week.
But other notable names are thinking about taking her on including state Sens. Ralph Hise and Deanna Ballard, though neither have declared.
The Cawthorn card
Cawthorn largely has a different Republican voting base from people like Moore who is known as more of an establishment Republican.
Cawthorn has the support of former President Donald Trump, who also threw his name behind Senate candidate and U.S. Rep. Ted Budd, instantly boosting Budd in the polls.
Cawthorn has put his own name behind candidates like Walker and 7th District candidate Bo Hines. The 7th District stretches from southern Wake County over to a portion of Davidson County and up into Guilford County.
Hines, an All-American football player from N.C. State, transferred to Yale University during his sophomore year. An injury caused him to drop out of the sport, but the Yale Daily News reported that anyone who knows Hines knows that football was secondary to his love of politics, so his run is not a surprise.
He graduated from Yale in 2018.
If Walker and Hines face off, it’s unclear whom Cawthorn would support.
It’s also unclear if Hardister will throw his name into the field as a more establishment Republican.
The 6th District
North Carolina’s 6th District has also garnered a lot of interest with three notable Democrats seeking the party’s nomination. The 6th District encompasses Durham and Orange counties and a portion of Wake.
State Sen. Wiley Nickel announced early he would run somewhere in North Carolina, and after the maps were drawn he chose the 6th District.
He was followed by Durham County Commissioner Nida Allam who seemingly garnered the party’s support.
But rumors began circulating that state Sen. Valerie Foushee would run and people believed that the party might throw its support her way.
When she announced her run last week, she instantly became a front-runner.
Lawsuits challenge the new maps
But there’s a question that everyone has been left pondering: Will any of this matter before the primary?
Two lawsuits have been filed challenging the legality of the maps and one challenging the process used to draw them.
Voting Rights Activist Stacy Abrams visited Durham Friday and called North Carolina’s maps the most “egregious” in the country, The News & Observer reported.
“Anytime politicians draw maps that do not reflect or respect the values or the intentions of the voter and instead focus on the will and perfidy of the politician, it’s called a gerrymander,” Abrams said. “Or otherwise known as North Carolina’s maps.”
That’s why Butterfield decided to retire.
“North Carolina is the battleground,” Butterfield told The N&O Friday. “I’ve looked at all of this and weighed all of the circumstances and I’ve just decided that I don’t want to run on that map that is gerrymandered. That is unfair.”
Butterfield said his decision is final even if the maps are overturned. He said Congress has taken a lot out of him and a lot away from his family. He wants to spend more time with his grandchildren and get to know them outside of Zoom.
Racism and politics
Gerrymandering is not a new phenomenon in North Carolina and is the reason Butterfield ran in the first place.
The desire bubbled up within him at age 10.
In 1953, his dad and their pastor worked together to get Black residents to register to vote. Hesitant because of the literacy test that was then required, many resisted. The two men persisted.
Eventually that led to 400 Black voters registering and Butterfield’s dad being elected to city council. Later he formed an alliance with a white mayor to ensure their voter bases helped them retain council seats.
Butterfield said the other council members didn’t like that and so while the Butterfield family went on vacation the council held an emergency meeting to change the districts to be completely at-large, where all residents vote for each member. That diluted the Black vote and cost his father future elections.
His pastor tried to run in his place but lost as well.
Butterfield said his dad was always very reasonable, mild mannered and respectful of the opinions of others but this move angered him. He said the council members said they needed someone who could represent the entire city and not just a section of it.
“But that was a pretext for returning the council to being all white,” Butterfield said.
His father’s anger transferred to Butterfield.
“I was going to find a way of avenging the discrimination my father faced,” Butterfield said.
Butterfield went to law school, became a civil rights lawyer and over time launched a political career that took him to Congress.
He said he didn’t get elected until July 2004 because the 2001 maps were being litigated in court. His career continued that way for 18 years.
He said the last court case led to an eight-five map in the Republicans’ favor. But he added that this new map is the worst he has seen.
“This map is the most partisan and racially gerrymandered I have ever seen,” Butterfield said. “It is extreme. Every political party pushes the envelope a little with redistricting but this is extreme to have 11 Republican seats out of 14.
“On a good day 10 out of 14 seats is unlawful, unconstitutional and undemocratic,” Butterfield said.
He vowed to help challenge the maps. When asked if he felt he had avenged his father he said more work was needed.
The future of Congress
Butterfield has not endorsed anyone to take his seat. He said several of his friends are considering a run.
What he hopes to see is a Black Democrat replace him in Congress.
So far only Sandy Smith, a Republican, and Jason Spriggs, a Democrat, have filed to run.
Butterfield said it wasn’t just the maps that led him to walk away.
“Congress is not what it was 18 years ago,” Butterfield said. “We lost the ability to be civil.”
Butterfield said he’s use to partisanship but over the past five years it’s gotten worse.
Butterfield said his decision allows him to campaign for congressional reform.
And it allows him to the pass the torch to a congressional hopeful who can carry on his mission.
This story was originally published November 20, 2021 10:13 AM.