Here in Mecklenburg County we tend to see the benefits of unity. Charlotte is tied to the county through an extensive road network, unified city-county services, and even a fledgling light rail service. We grow and thrive together. However, for more than 20 years an ugly line has scythed through the county and into the city’s heart: District 12.
That is not an allusion to a particular YA franchise, and Congressional District 12 is not the issue per se, but what it represents. With most of the county in District 9 and the heart of Charlotte isolated into District 12, we clearly see a case of drawing electoral districts with the intent of favoring one group over another — or “gerrymandering” as it is commonly called.
Contorting lines on a map may sound relatively benign, but the reality is that those lines are often devised to create safe regions for a political party or to silence minority racial groups. While the latter is an obvious moral affront the former seems less threatening; why wouldn’t we want to keep our preferred party in power?
The basic reason is that gerrymandering breaks democracy. If a politician, or political party, is nestled in a safe zone of like minded voters at the expense of true representation then there is no democracy. Contrary to some wild claims from both ends of the political spectrum, we are all supporters of representative government over imposed political masters. Creating truly fair and representative districts is admittedly a daunting and complex task, but surely we can do better than what we have now.
The current version of District 12 is a narrow area that runs from Greensboro vaguely along I-85 until it bifurcates the county and isolates central Charlotte. The rest of Mecklenburg County falls into District 9, which runs up the I-75 corridor and takes up chunks of Iredell County. Here is the map as it is now:
In February, a federal panel of judges took the state to task for its wildly drawn Congressional district map. A new map from the state legislature has been drawn and submitted for approval, and it looks like this:
There is progress here. Gone is the meandering, thin strip of voter isolation. In its place Charlotte has been reunited with long separate northern and central areas of the county to create a new District 12, but we’re still separate from Matthews on the south. This is not good enough, and there is a singular reason for that.
Charlotte-Mecklenburg needs unity in its congressional representation in order to have the best chance to bring vital federal funds to the area. The benefits of those funds are not just local to Charlotte, but for the state as a whole. The reason the benefit is so widespread is the way municipalities of different sizes function.
The bulk of the state’s counties and towns, which have locally and regionally focused economies, benefit from the state’s major economic centers in the form of distributed tax revenue. The smaller municipalities are geared economically and politically towards self sustainment, and the extra infusion of cash from the state is generally sufficient for them.
A major metro area such as Charlotte is different. As an economic engine, it has to look beyond the state when it needs maintenance or an upgrade. This is where the federal government comes into play in our quirky governmental system. Massive loans and grants from the federal government (such as recent infusions into the LYNX Blue Line) keep the city on track when it needs to grow.
The map is not quite final yet. There are still challenges (the NAACP has weighed in against the map, as well as other groups). But candidates are lining up for a June primary with the new boundary lines.
As we careen deeper into an election year, we must not ignore this critical local issue. A unified Mecklenburg County, with its own representative in Congress, is a key towards greater growth for Charlotte. So tell your friends, tell your neighbors, tell your elected representatives: We want our unified county back.