Haywood’s political landscape changes at the 11th hour | New
With just weeks left before candidates begin registering in the 2022 election, a new map of the state’s legislative districts has been released – a map that means big changes for voters in Haywood County.
Haywood will no longer be split between two seats in the State House. Instead, the entire county will be under a single House District, with neighboring Madison County to the north.
This seat is currently occupied by Representative Mark Pless, R-Bethel, who is running again. A Democratic candidate has yet to run, in part because of the wait game over how the new district lines would fall.
Democrats will now have a larger pool to draw from when putting forward a candidate. The new district includes Waynesville and Lake Junaluska – which were previously hewn out of Haywood and transformed into a district with Jackson and Swain counties to the south.
This southern district just happens to be the home territory of Joe Sam Queen, a Democrat from Waynesville who served six terms as state lawmaker. Queen lost her seat in 2020 and has yet to decide whether he will run again in 2022.
âI keep my powder dry,â Queen said.
If he does, he’ll face Pless – since all of Haywood will be in the same neighborhood. Pless said he was not worried regardless of his Democratic opponent.
âI’m not at all worried. If I haven’t done my job, I deserve to be fired, âsaid Pless, who is running his first term in Raleigh after two years as county commissioner.
The big question for political agents is whether the new district of Haywood gives either party an advantage over the old map. Yancey County was kicked out of the district to make way for the greater Waynesville area.
On the voters’ side, the new riding will make things easier. They will no longer have to analyze the race of the House they vote for based on where they live.
Set up a Dem
As the candidacy period approaches (December 6-17), the local Democratic Party has stepped up to the plate to determine who will run for the new House seat since the release of the redistribution cards to the end of last week.
âPeople I spoke to all said they wanted to see what the new district lines looked like,â said Myrna Campbell, President of the Haywood Democratic Party. âIt changes the dynamic enormously. “
For starters, this puts candidates from the Waynesville and Lake Junaluska areas vying for the seat – Queen among them.
Queen is a state legislator who served six terms – four years in the Senate in the 2000s and eight years in the House in the 2010s. Her House seat, which he lost in 2020, was in the southernmost district which included Jackson and Swain. Now he would be in the same neighborhood as Pless.
Queen said he was more than willing to come forward, but did not make up his mind.
âI’m not afraid to run by any means,â Queen said. âI want the best candidate we can present. If I am the best candidate, I will run. If someone else is the best candidate, I will support them.
Pless bet Democrats might have a hard time recruiting a candidate, and not just because Haywood has abandoned his Southern Democratic roots in recent years.
âIt’s a sad thing to say, but most people don’t want to do that,â Pless said. âIt’s a lot of work, more than people think. I didn’t even realize it myself.
All together now
Every 10 years, the legislative maps are redrawn according to the latest census figures. The process distributes the state’s population evenly between the 50 state Senate seats and the 120 House seats.
The cards just came out last week – leaving an incredibly narrow window before the application period in early December.
“This is insane,” said Chris Cooper, director of WCU’s Public Policy Institute and policy analyst. “The flash to hit on it is faster than we are used to.”
The Census Bureau was supposed to announce new population counts for redistribution in March, but they didn’t arrive until mid-September.
The maps are so new that local political officials from both parties are still figuring out what the new district’s voter demographics look like on paper. But so far both parties in Haywood are happy that all of Haywood is now under one seat in the House.
âIt will be easier to have clear lines,â Pless said.
While Pless does not technically represent Waynesville, any issue the city faces most likely overlaps with the county as a whole. But Waynesville was officially in the district represented by Representative Mike Clampitt, R-Bryson City.
Nonetheless, Waynesville voters often called Pless – “because I’m the one who lives here,” he said – even though he was not their lawmaker.
âUsually, I just handled it anyway,â Pless said. âIt will make it a lot easier if I’m the only one at the table instead of trying to coordinate with someone else who also represents Haywood. “
Campbell, the chairman of the Haywood Democratic Party, also supports the new county-wide district.
âOne of the strongest messages that came out during the public redistribution hearings was to stop dividing counties,â Campbell said.
Draw the lines
The deal on Haywood’s new seat in the House is a rarity in redistribution, a process fraught with partisan accusations of gerrymandering. While there are many fights that could play out over the redistribution, there is no chance that Haywood’s new seat in the House will change.
âIt’s foolproof,â Cooper said.
Slicing and dividing the state into evenly divided districts becomes tricky in the more populous Piedmont. But in the west, it is drier. Cartographers simply start at the Tennessee line and work east, grouping counties together to reach the target population within a 5% range.
âWe’re so sparsely populated and the math just worked,â Cooper said.
The party that controls the state legislature – currently Republicans – oversees the redistribution. But before lawmakers take their turn, a non-partisan committee makes a first attempt to group counties into clusters. Cooper was on that county reunification committee.
âWe go through it first and say, ‘We’re going to cut the cake that way,’ and that becomes the base card, ” Cooper explained.
Finding the so-called county clusters in the west was a no-brainer, Cooper said. This is because the mountain counties that stretch along the state border are grouped together by neat county lines. But in Mecklenburg and Wake counties – which have up to 12 House seats in a single county – lawmakers have wiggle room within county groups, a largely subjective process that leaves the door open to challenge. legal proceedings concerning gerrymandering.
The most likely fodder for court challenges are the state’s US Congressional Districts, a high-stakes game that determines the balance of power in Washington. Lawsuits could send cartographers back to the drawing board and even delay the March 2022 primary if not resolved on time.
âThe question is, do we move back the primary because of the challenges? Cooper said.
Jokingly, Cooper said there was one big downside to the new Haywood neighborhood: the Queen v. Clampitt would finally come to an end.
Queen has faced Swain County Republican Mike Clampitt five times. Both were part of the same district that spun Waynesville along with Jackson and Swain counties. The two have swapped the seat every other election in recent years, with Clampitt winning it most recently in 2020. This seat now includes Transylvania County, instead of part of Haywood.
âWe’re going to be denied a Clampitt-Queen VI race,â Cooper joked.
Haywood County Republican President Kay Miller said she liked Republican duo Pless and Clampitt to represent Haywood.
âWe got used to having the two gentlemen at events. So on the one hand, you feel like it’s a loss, âMiller said.
But she understands the merit of an entire district of Haywood, and that won’t really affect the party’s mission.
âAt the end of the day – and at the start of the day too – we’re about to elect Republicans,â Miller said.