LUMBERTON — State Rep. Garland Pierce gives a thumbs up to the new proposed district maps that will remove Robeson County from his District 48, which currently includes parts of Robeson, Scotland, Hoke and Richmond counties.
“I have the most bizarre district of all,” said the Wagram Democrat who has represented part of Robeson County since he first took office in 2004. “It runs all the way from Fairmont to almost Greensboro. It’s a vicious district when you have to travel it.”
Pierce spoke on Thursday, before both chambers met on Friday to consider the maps. Republicans were warned that they continue to ignore racial data, and if they aren’t careful judges will redraw the lines.
The proposed House map being considered leaves Robeson County represented by only two House members, Brenden Jones, a Republican from Tabor City in District 46, and Charles Graham, a Democrat from Lumberton in District 47. Each of the House members will represent about half the county, with District 47 in the west and District 46 in the east.
The proposed map also has Rep. Ken Goodman, a Democrat from Richmond County who represents District 66, no longer representing any part of Robeson County. His current district covers a sliver of Robeson County that includes St. Pauls, Parkton and Lumber Bridge.
Pierce called the newly proposed District 48 an “ideal district” for any legislator to represent.
“How could I not support it? It’s easier to represent two counties than four,” he said. “With two counties there is more flexibility.”
Pierce said the newly drawn District 48, that includes just Scotland and Hoke counties, is a good district because the two counties have a lot of things in common.
“Both are rural counties and the issues they face are similar. Also there is a population difference between the two counties of only about 10,000 people,” he said.
He will miss representing Robeson County because he considers it his second home, Pierce said.
“I lived and worked in Robeson County from 1980 to 1990, and my wife is from Fairmont,” he said. “I developed a lot of friendships here over the years, and it is a great constituency to represent.”
Pierce said he thinks he has done a good job over the years representing his multi-county District 48 and hopes voters will remember his achievements.
“You have to work. You can’t fool the voters,” he said. “If you make yourself accessible and do the job people expect, they will support you.”
Unlike the local changes in the House maps, the newly proposed Senate District 13, which encompasses Robeson and Columbus counties, will remain the same. District 13 is currently represented by Republican Danny Britt Jr., an attorney from Lumberton. The Senate on Friday gave tentative approval to the redrawn maps for that chamber.
Longtime political observer, Republican Bo Biggs of Lumberton, agrees with Pierce that the newly proposed maps affecting Robeson County are more compact and easier for the legislator to serve his or her constituency.
“It makes our districts contiguous. We are not chopped up,” Biggs said. “We hate to lose Garland and Ken, but the way the maps are drawn it solves the problems that people here have had with our current district maps.”
The proposed maps appear to have been drawn in a way that will make districts in Robeson County competitive when it comes to elections between Republicans and Democrats, Biggs said. The new maps also should serve as an incentive to encourage more individuals to become candidates for elected offices.
The Robesonian has been unable to get comments from Graham and Jones. Goodman said earlier this week the new districts were more “logical” geographically.
Despite Democrat warnings, GOP lawmakers voted Friday in the Senate to give tentative approval to their chamber’s proposed remap. The voting, which resumes Monday, marked key steps in approving maps prior to a three-judge panel’s deadline on Friday.
Over Democratic objections, Republicans last week approved criteria for redrawing new lines that purposefully left out the racial composition of voters. This decision came after the judges threw out 19 House and nine Senate districts from the 2011 maps as illegal racial gerrymanders.
Democrats cautioned that judges may strike down these sets of maps, too, because Republicans won’t be able to explain how some districts still contain majority-black populations.
If the judges reject the new maps, which would take effect for the 2018 elections, they could decide to redraw the maps themselves or send the job to an outside expert.
“The court says that we have discriminatory districts,” Senate Minority Leader Dan Blue of Wake County, said during floor debate on the Senate maps. “It just is anti-intuitive that you can fix a problem without addressing the problem … and it might be that you’re sending a message to this three-judge panel that you don’t take judicial orders very seriously.”
The chairman of the Senate redistricting committee said Republicans are respecting and responding to the judges’ ruling.
“We have a solution for that. We will not use race in the creation of districts,” said Sen. Ralph Hise, a Mitchell County Republican, before the Senate approved the GOP plan in a 27-16 vote. “We have answered the court’s questions with these maps and we are prepared to move forward now with elections under these maps … (but) I don’t think anybody thinks the legal fight is over.”
Bob Shiles can be reached at 910-416-5165. The Associated Press contributed to this story.