Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Rep. Heath Shuler in North Carolina – A Microcosm of Redistricting

Will Democat Mr. Shuler Change Parties?

Every ten years the U. S. redraws Congressional districts to reflect population changes and shifts.  Where Democrats control the process they try to re-district to support Democrats.  Where Republicans control the process they try to re-district to support their members and add new members.

North Carolina is an interesting case.  The state is one of the more moderate southern states, and in 2008 voted for Obama.  In 2010 the Republicans captured the state legislature and with it control over re-districting.  Now they plan to use that power to draw districts that will maximize their chances of gaining seats.

Much of the interest will be on the 11th Congressional District, which is currently the western part of the state.  The core of the district is Asheville, a Democratic leaning area surrounded by Republican leaning rural and mountain areas.  In 2006 former football star and conservative Democratic candidate Heath Shuler took the seat from a long time Republican, and has held it ever since. 

Shuler is considered a leader of the conservative Democrats, a group that shrunk dramatically in the 2010 Republican sweep. He mounted a symbolic challenge to Nancy Pelosi for House Minority Leader after the 2010 electoral debacle.   He is pro gun, anti abortion rights and has survived elections because he has been able to consolidate voters of various political philosophies and has had weak opposition.  He now faces a potential shift in his district that will put him in a much more Republican area.

The interesting question for Mr. Shuler, and for Democratic prospects in the south is whether or not Mr. Shuler becomes a Republican.  The Dismal Political Economist can easily imagine the pitch that Republicans will make to the Mr. Shuler. 

“Switch parties and you are assured election for the rest of your life.  You get money and a path to the leadership.  Your seniority will be recognized  Stay a Democrat and you have no power or influence in a Republican held House and every two years there will be an unlimited amount of money against you and you will lose, if not in 2012 then at some time in the future.”

For Mr. Shuler to stay a Democrat would mean he puts party and political philosophy ahead of personal ambition and influence.  That somewhat rare event has happened with other politicians, and the interesting question is whether or not it will happen with Mr. Shuler, and what that portends for the Democratic party being a national party.

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