Producers of a long-form news show on HBO will shine the national spotlight on North Carolina’s gerrymandered districts — including that of state Rep. Garland Pierce.
The first half of Friday night’s episode of VICE, “Divide & Conquer,” sends correspondent Gianna Toboni to the Tar Heel state, which VICE founder Shane Smith refers to in the introduction as “ground zero for the gerrymandering debate.”
Gerrymandering, the practice of manipulating district lines in an effort to give one political party a voting advantage over the other, has become a hot-button issue in North Carolina.
Pierce, D-Scotland, unfolds a map of his district on the hood of a car, showing the jagged edges of state House District 48 meandering through the four counties he represents: Richmond, Hoke, Scotland and Robeson.
When Toboni asks Pierce why the district is shaped like it is — which, with a little imagination, resembles a silhouette of a sinking ship on fire, with the South Carolina state line as the water — Pierce replies: “To stack and pack minorities.”
“A neighborhood should never be split,” he said. “But they use the power of the pen to really put themselves in a position to lead for a while.”
The special not only tackles the state’s legislative districts, but also congressional districts — both of which have recently been redrawn.
New maps released last month give Pierce just Scotland and Hoke counties, while Rep. Ken Goodman, D-Richmond, would represent his home county, Montgomery and a sliver of eastern Stanly.
Pierce told the Daily Journal the new plan would take pressure off of himself and future representatives, as well as benefit the residents of those counties.
“It’s impossible to be everywhere you need to be, so if it stays the course, I think it will be good to have two county clusters,” he said. “It allows the representative to be more visible.”
However, the Associated Press reported last week that lawyers with the Southern Coalition on Social Justice still found fault with 12 of the redrawn General Assembly districts, asking the court to draw the boundaries.
Before speaking with Pierce in the VICE report, Toboni travels to the western edge of the state and meets with Asheville Mayor Esther Manheimer, who explains gerrymandered districts resulted in a largely progressive area being represented by conservatives.
Manheimer said liberal voters feel “their voice has been eradicated by gerrymandering.”
The nonpartisan nonprofit Common Cause N.C. believes the drawing of districts should be taken out of lawmakers’ hands.
“As long as partisan politicians are in charge of drawing North Carolina’s voting maps, our state’s redistricting process will continue to be deeply flawed regardless of which party is in power,” Executive Director Bob Phillips said in a statement when congressional districts were redrawn early last year . “North Carolina needs an impartial redistricting process that ignores all political consideration and puts voters ahead of partisanship.”
Columnist John Hood, of the conservative John Locke Foundation, also supports independent district mapmaking.
“I advocate reforms that would generate more competitive congressional and legislative districts,” he wrote in January. “I did so when Democrats were gerrymandering the maps — the 2001 districts they tried to enact, until the courts stopped them, were far more contorted than the current ones — and I’ve continued to do so with Republicans in charge. “
Toboni reports that gerrymandering isn’t exclusive to North Carolina, saying that because of the process, Republicans have been able to gain control of 16 state legislatures since 2010.
“Gerrymandering sucks,” said actor and former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who added if he could travel back in time like in “The Terminator,” he would go to 1812 and wipe out gerrymandering. “It’s all designed for helping the politicians, but not the ordinary citizen.”
Like Phillips and Hood, the “Governator” said the only way to end gerrymandering is to take the power away from legislators.
The U.S. Supreme Court is set to hear arguments in a Wisconsin gerrymandering case next month.
The VICE episode will air at 7:30 and 11 p.m. Friday on HBO.
“I hope that many will take advantage of this opportunity to watch this TV special on this important issue,” Pierce said in a statement on Thursday.
Reach William R. Toler at 910-817-2675.