Building districts by the numbersWritten by Colby Dunn
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This year, the math of moving districts will give virtually every western block a shift.
Sen. Jim Davis’s, R-Franklin, Senate District 50, which now claims seven counties — Cherokee, Clay, Graham, Macon, Swain, Jackson and Transylvania — plus part of Haywood, lacks around 15,000 patrons to reach the threshold.
“I know my district is going to change,” said Davis. “We’ve got to pick up 15,000 in population, but I don’t know exactly how it’s going to change. I think that I may get more of Haywood County, but I don’t know for sure.”
He could scoop up a greater share of Haywood to bring enough voters into the fold, but all of Haywood would push him over the threshold. Unless, however, Transylvania was given the boot.
Without Transylvania, the seven western counties — Haywood, Jackson, Macon, Swain, Clay, Graham and Cherokee — perfectly comprise a Senate district. Haywood would not need to be split between two senate districts as it is now.
Meanwhile, on the other side of Haywood County, the horseshoe-shaped ward of Sen. Ralph Hise, R-Spruce Pine, that wraps from Haywood up to Mitchell and back down to McDowell likewise needs to expand its boundaries to bring in enough voters. This is due partly to the across-the-board district broadening the census has imposed on rural areas and exacerbated by possibly losing his existing slice of Haywood. He will likely have to shift northeast to pull in enough people.
Over in the house, Rep. Phil Haire, D-Sylva, knows his district will have some rearranging to do, as well.
“It will have to be divided. There is no way you can do it (otherwise),” Haire said. “There is a certain amount of common sense that goes in to it.”
The way he sees it, the process must start in Cherokee County, at the state’s westernmost corner, picking up the populace in pieces as it moves along.
“You have to have so many people in a district. If one county doesn’t have it you add another county, if that doesn’t do it you add in another,” said Haire.
And if you start in the corner and move steadily eastward, it’s almost certain that his district will, again, split Haywood.
House District 119, Haire’s domain, now takes in Swain, Jackson and parts of Haywood and Macon counties.
But doing east-moving math, Cherokee, Graham, Clay and Macon make a perfect district — just upwards of 80,000 people, falling neatly in the range for a House district without splitting any county. From there, it moves up toward Jackson and Swain, but those two together are 20,000 people shy of a district. So Haire would have to take a 20,000-person bite out of Haywood or Transylvania; one of the two would have to be split.
Slicing Haywood to give to Haire seems the most likely for a couple of reasons, the most practical being geography and likeness — Haywood is far more similar to and easily accessible from Swain and Jackson counties than Transylvania.
But there are, of course, political considerations as well.
Rep. David Guice, R-Brevard, holds all of Transylvania at the moment. And his party holds the power in this year’s redistricting, so it seems unlikely that splitting that historically Republican county away from Guice would be high on any Republican agenda.
Right now, Haire has a pretty small sliver of Haywood County — around 25 percent — but were he to grab from there as many votes as he needed, he’d be claiming almost half of the county.
Which brings the discussion to Rep. Ray Rapp, D-Mars Hill, who now shares the county with Haire. He would lose some of his voters in Haywood to Haire’s district, forcing him to push further north and east in a bid for a full district, claiming the whole of Yancey County into his three-county district.