If you’re visual like me, and focused on the pernicious politics of gerrymandering as I am, you will be drawn to this map North Carolina’s eastern Congressional Districts:
Google map scraped from www.govtrack.us, a great site for browsing
Note the map uses a four-color scheme for the districts so that some non-contiguous districts may be the same color. So, for example, NC-3 seems to fairly naturally cover the Atlantic coastal regions, but NC-1 appears to plunge southward in strange and invasive ways. The green NC-13 is a classic gerrymander that obviously has a purpose, and easy to miss is the blue NC-4 which appears to have been crumpled and compressed by the political forces surrounding it, which it turns out is exactly the case.
NC-1 is a safe Democratic seat made safer in the last redistricting, held by G.K. Butterfield, and NC-4 is a more liberal-leaning Research Triangle district won by Democrat David Price by 48 points in 2012. Both Butterfield and Price voted solidly with the Democrats on maintaining the Affordable Care Act funding and opposing the shutdown. NC-7 is held by Mike McIntyre, a Democrat who originally supported defunding the ACA but went along with the final compromise, and NC-13 is held by George Holding, a shutdown firebrand closely aligned with the Tea Party who ultimately voted against the winning compromise and for a government default.
So in this geometrically tortured 4-district area, you have two solid Blue/Democrats, one uncompromising Red/Republican, and one Democrat whose voting pattern reveals some conflict between the two extremes. Isn’t it obvious that all four of these representatives’ behaviors would have had to moderate if their districts employed an Optimal Proximity algorithm? Wouldn’t they all, to varying degrees, have had to listen to a balance of concerns about the need for affordable healthcare, legitimate concerns over Obamacare, the need for the government functions to continue operations, and the craziness of threatening to default on the debt?
And would George Holding and Mike McIntyre, specifically, have had anything to fear from the threat of a Tea-Party challenge to their right if they didn’t toe the right-wing line? Right-wing nuts have threatened this for years- the threat just never had any teeth until recently.
I don’t claim to be an expert on North Carolina politics, so let me point you to David Weigel’s excellent Slate article Beware the Gerrymandering Denialists. Weigel relates how North Carolina’s districts, drawn by Democrats in 2009, resulted in 6 of 13 districts going to Obama vs McCain in 2012, while the Republican-drawn districts would have given 10 of 13 Districts to McCain, who lost narrowly in the state as a whole. Also, the New York Times has a great interactive graphic today The Factions in the House of Representatives which allows you to quickly peruse the shapes of districts and how they voted in the recent shutdown/default shenanigans.