Our Opinion: Independent panel the only solution to gerrymandering

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Gov. Roy Cooper is trying to browbeat state lawmakers back to the drawing board in the wake of a U.S. Supreme Court decision striking down 28 of North Carolina’s legislative districts as racial gerrymanders.

Cooper called a special session of the General Assembly June 8, interrupting the regular session already in progress, for the purpose of redrawing district maps. Republican leaders ignored the Democratic governor’s prodding.

The governor has the constitutional authority to call lawmakers into session “by and with the advice of the Council of State,” but his counterparts argue his call was constitutionally invalid.

Cooper wants the maps redrawn post-haste, as his party is racing the clock in a push for special legislative elections in modified districts this fall. Absent a court order, it’s unlikely that will transpire. Republicans are likely to drag their feet, delaying mapmaking until off-year elections would no longer be viable.

The latest stunt shows redistricting for what it is — an overtly partisan exercise. Courts have said, after all, that gerrymandering is OK as long as it’s done for political reasons. Only racial gerrymanders are forbidden.

Republicans continued a shameful tradition during the 2011 redistricting process. But as they correctly point out, Cooper doesn’t have a lot of credibility when he feigns outrage at misshapen maps.

When he served in the N.C. Senate, Cooper’s district was, to put it charitably, asymmetrical. It covered all of Nash County, swung through Wilson County in a distorted C-shape, added two tumor-like growths in Edgecombe County and carved a jagged path through Halifax County.

Sen. Andrew Brock, R-Davie, compared Cooper’s former Senate district to “abstract art” in a News & Observer story. Touché.

The Democrats are right about the Republicans. And the Republicans are right about the Democrats. Both parties’ creative compositions of legislative districts look like finger-painting projects.

We’re reminded of Albert Einstein’s oft-quoted comment on the definition of insanity — doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

New district maps may reduce racial disparities, but they are sure to preserve political advantages for Republicans. And if Democrats return to power in a wave election, the districts they draw after the 2020 census will be similarly slanted to favor them.

The only way out of this maddening cycle is to establish an independent redistricting commission tasked with creating compact, competitive legislative and congressional districts.

The conservative John Locke Foundation and the liberal North Carolina Justice Center both favor putting the maps in neutral hands. The venerable think tanks join a host of interest groups on the left, right and center who support fair, nonpartisan mapmaking.

A Public Policy Polling survey taken earlier this year found that 59 percent of voters support independent redistricting, 26 percent aren’t sure and only 15 percent oppose it.

Despite the clarion call for reform, the General Assembly refuses to cede its power.

Why do we continue allowing our representatives to pick their voters? Shouldn’t it be the other way around?