Gerrymandering Can Affect Your Water

A graphic depicting two maps for proposed congressional districts for the state of North Carolina

A graphic depicting two maps for proposed congressional districts for the state of North Carolina
Patrick Henry hated two things: tyranny and James Madison. That’s why in 1788, Henry persuaded the Virginia General Assembly to re-draw the 5th Congressional District to favor his friend James Monroe. The ploy didn’t work because of Madison’s popularity across party lines, but it does mark the first documented case of gerrymandering in America. Since then, the practice of fiddling with boundaries has become commonplace, especially here in North Carolina.

To be fair, both major political parties have engaged in gerrymandering, a strategy designed to protect incumbents of whichever party was in power at the time. It is also sometimes employed to strengthen that party’s hold on the state legislature or increase their numbers within the congressional delegation. Lately, though, the GOP’s map-drawing activities have been particularly heavy-handed and ballsy, considering that Democrats outnumber Republicans on the voter rolls.

In recent times such gerrymandering has been designed to dilute Democrat and minority voting and make it unlikely for Black candidates to win a seat in Congress. To that point, earlier in this decade, Republicans once held 10 of North Carolina’s 13 congressional seats. But the census and the courts changed that equation when our state picked up an additional congressional district, and a panel of special masters came up with a map that resulted in each party holding seven seats.

Earlier last month, the Republican-controlled N.C. Senate re-drew district lines that can be used for the 2024 election, and with a conservative Supreme Court in the mix, the GOP stands to unfairly gain seats in both Raleigh and Washington. But if that kind of political skullduggery leaves a bad taste in your mouth, just wait until it actually affects the taste of your drinking water, and it could. 

According to the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality, we need to spend between $17 billion and $26 billion dollars to ensure that our water and wastewater infrastructure systems don’t pose a hazard to our health. Speaking with the Winston-Salem Journal’s John Deem, NCDEQ Secretary Elizabeth Biser said, “Our communities are dealing with an aging infrastructure. A lot of pipes that were put in the ground before any of us were born, are made out of terracotta and wood, and they’re leaking and losing water and wastewater throughout our state.” 

As Deem reports, last month Republican lawmakers approved $2 billion dollars for replacing and improving more than 200 local water and sewer projects. But Democrats like Guilford representative Pricey Harrison point out that those budget allocations were not formulated based on the highest need, but rather on which localities are controlled by Republicans. To be specific, the North Carolina Conservation Network estimates that 83% of the funding will be spent in counties and cities that are, “represented exclusively by Republicans in the General Assembly,” and only 2.5% will go to areas ”represented entirely by Democrats.” That, my friends, is gerrymandering at its worst.

Sam Chan, a spokesperson for Gov. Roy Cooper told the Journal, “It’s wrong to divide up money in the back room based on politics…the need is great for clean water infrastructure that’s critical for our health and our economy, and it cheats taxpayers not to get the best use of every dollar.”     

Patrick Henry once said, “Give me liberty or give me death!” He also opposed “taxation without representation”. But thanks to his pioneering efforts in the art of gerrymandering, we are slowly losing our liberty by having our tax dollars spent without fair and balanced representation, and that’s hard to swallow, with or without water.


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