Esther Manheimer on Gerrymandering in Asheville

From the Citizen-Times

Asheville gerrymandering focus of new HBO/'Vice' segment, other national media. 

HBO's documentary series "Vice" will run a segment Friday featuring Asheville and the effects of state gerrymandering, the latest in a flurry of national attention on Western North Carolina and the calculated political lines running through it.

In Friday's episode "Divide & Conquer," Mayor Esther Manheimer is interviewed by "Vice" correspondent Gianna Toboni and talks about how Asheville, once completely in the 11th Congressional District was split into two conservative districts. The segment runs 7:30 p.m.and 11 p.m.

When Asheville was in one district with the rest of WNC, it was represented by Heath Shuler, a House Democrat who took conservative stances on some issues, particularly the budget.

Manheimer calls Shuler "an excellent balance of what you get when you add Asheville to the rest of Western North Carolina," a liberal city in the middle of a more conservative region.

But after Republicans won the majority in the General Assembly in 2010 they redrew congressional lines to split the city into the 10th and 11th districts. 

"Asheville was dramatically affected," the mayor said. "They (the voters) feel that their voice has been eradicated by gerrymandering."

The producers of "Vice" include Bill Maher, the left-leaning comedian and television show host of "Real Time with Bill Maher," and Washington Post columnist Fareed Zakaria.

Asheville was also the focus of a Thursday NBC News article on how parties use redistricting to gain advantages in elections. The piece was called, "They’re Still Drawing Crazy-Looking Districts. Can’t It Be Stopped?"

In November Western North Carolina provided some of the storyline for a documentary by actor and comedian Zach Galafianakas about gerrymandering in the state.

Manheimer has stumped for state-level redistricting reform, calling for a nonpartisan committee to draw the maps that the General Assembly would have to vote up or down.

Her opponents in the Oct. 10 primary Martin Ramsey and Jonathan Wainscott are similarly opposed to how state legislators drew the lines, though Ramsey, a socialist, said a harder more confrontational line needs to be taken with the General Assembly which he said has "virtually guaranteed" it will stay in power through gerrymandering.

"We are almost in a soft authoritarianism," he said. "There could be a six percent stwing and we could still be locked out. The center and the left could still be locked out."

Wainscott, an East West Asheville activist and frequent critic of city government, used the discussion to take shots at both the state and city leaders.

While state gerrymandering should end, the city too needed to take steps to make sure there was more geographic representation, he said.

That could be fixed by changing the City Council voting system from at-large to one with districts, he said.

"Without voting districts in Asheville, we have had a disproportionate number of council members and mayors that live in North Asheville, with little representation on council coming from South Asheville."