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The Voice of the Black Community

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No voice, no choice on Capitol Hill
N.C's 12th District goes silent for nearly a year
 
Published Thursday, January 16, 2014 5:14 am
by Herbert L. White

The most urban congressional district in North Carolina – and its financial heart – doesn’t have a voice in Congress.

And it will stay that way through December.

When U.S. Rep. Mel Watt, a Charlotte Democrat, resigned the 12th Congressional District on Jan. 6 to become chief of the Federal Housing Finance Agency, N.C. Gov. Pat McCrory, as required by state law, set a special election date to fill the seat. McCrory opted for May 6 –  concurrent with the May primary – potentially leaving voters without representation until December.   

Because the special election us on the same day as the primary, it is all but a moot point to the general election. If no one earns 40 percent of the primary vote, a runoff will be held July 15 if one is requested. That’s a likely scenario, considering there are six announced Democratic candidates for the seat. The general election is Nov. 4, when all voters head to the polls. 

“When I first looked at on the face of it, I thought it was a little political, Davidson College political science professor Susan Roberts said, “but (McCrory)  also makes a strong financial argument for it. It’s perfectly legal.” 

Six counties make up the 12th: Mecklenburg, which has 52 percent of its 456,000 voters; Cabarrus, Rowan, Davidson, Forsyth and Guilford. Half the district’s constituents are African American, one of two districts with black majorities.

“The voters of the 12th district deserve a fair and quick election,” N.C. Sen. Malcolm Graham, one of four Charlotte candidates for Watt’s seat, tweeted on Jan. 9. “We should not have to wait nearly a year to fill this seat.”

McCrory cited multiple filing deadlines, logistics and the need to avoid “voter confusion” as the reason for simultaneous May elections. Cost was another factor. According to the State Board of Elections, separating the 12th District from the statewide ballot would cost taxpayers more than $1 million.     

Democrats, who make up 63 percent of the 12th’s voters, are livid about the nearly year-long lack of representation in the House on issues ranging from immigration reform to renewal of a federal farm bill that will impact the voucher program commonly referred to as food stamps. 

“That’s a very long time,” said Robbie Akhere PhD, the N.C. Democratic Party’s 12th Congressional District chair. “Right now, the Senate is looking at unemployment (insurance extensions) that will go back to the House and the district …won’t have that support.

“We do not have a champion at all, and it’s not just Democrats. All people who live in that district” are without a voice in Washington.

"I firmly disagree with the governor's decision," 12th District Republican Chair Daniel Rufty said in a statement. "This is not about politics. This is about the citizens of the 12th district. The citizens have suffered for a long time under Mel Watt. Our poverty rate has increased, our education standards and graduation rates have decreased, more people are out of a job, and citizens of this district have ultimately been a cog in Mel Watt's machine." 

Watt’s former congressional colleagues are weighing in as well. Democrats G.K. Butterfield and David Price wrote McCrory last week to reconsider his decision, arguing the election schedule amounts to electoral foot-dragging. McCrory, a Republican, is a former Charlotte mayor. 

“Such a delay is unacceptable, indeed, it is unprecedented in recent congressional history,” Butterfield and Price wrote. “Of the other seven vacancies in the 113th Congress, six were filled in an average of 126 days. The general election to fill the seventh is scheduled to take place 145 days after our colleague Bill Young’s (R-Fla.) unexpected passing.” 

“I am deeply disappointed in Gov. McCrory’s decision to delay the election process further than it needed to be, leaving the 12th District unrepresented for nearly a year – basically half the entire term – and a record length of time in North Carolina,” said N.C. Rep. Alma Adams of Greensboro, who is also a candidate for the congressional seat. “His duty as governor was to set a special election to fill this vacancy, and there is clearly nothing special about this timeline.” 

Although Watt is no longer in office, his former staff remains to carry out constituent service such as Social Security payments, passport applications and postal delivery. But when votes are taken on bills, the 12th will be silent for most of the year.

“All of our citizens deserve a voice in the future of our country, especially as the House of Representatives considers legislation affecting their lives and livelihoods,” Price and Butterfield said.

 

 

Comments

I think it's unthinkable in this day and age that this can happen in any district in the US...I am ashamed of the Gov. of NC
Posted on January 18, 2014
 
This is entirely a political and racial act. I am in the 12th district and have already wrote the Governor and the Observer. I encourage all voters to do the same.
Posted on January 16, 2014
 

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