Five Black incumbent legislators lost elections in eastern North Carolina districts last week, contributing to an overall decline in Black representation from rural counties with significant African-American populations.
Two of the incumbent House candidates who were defeated last week, Democratic Reps. Howard Hunter III of Hertford County and James D. Gailliard of Nash County, said new district lines, a barrage of negative ads and mailers, and lower turnout among Democrats contributed to their losses.
“Everyone was surprised, but folks didn’t get out the vote,” said Hunter, whose district includes areas his father represented for 18 years as a member of the House.
States redrew boundaries for legislative and congressional districts after the 2020 census to account for population changes. The General Assembly had to draw legislative districts twice before they passed muster with the state Supreme Court. The court rejected the first set of maps as unconstitutional partisan gerrymanders.
Gaillard said his colleagues from the eastern counties were talking about the challenges they would face winning reelection when they saw the new district maps.
“We felt, the Black representatives, when the maps were redrawn they were going to put all of us at risk,” Gailliard said. “We were right.”
Parts of eastern North Carolina are in the state’s ‘Black Belt,’ places where enslaved Africans and their descendants worked fertile soil. Bertie, Hertford, Edgecombe, Northampton and Halifax counties have majority Black populations. Three others have populations that are 40% to 50% Black. Some of these counties have had Black House members and senators representing them in Raleigh for decades.
Nearly all the Republican candidates who defeated Black eastern North Carolina Democratic legislators are white.
“We still take rural African-American voters for granted,” Gailliard said. The state Democratic Party doesn’t spend as much time and effort on voter-turnout in rural areas as it does in cities.
“Many of us running say, ‘Go into Scotland Neck, Pinetops, Battleboro. It’s going to make a difference.’”
State Democratic Party spokeswoman Julia Walker did not respond to a phone call or text message Monday seeking a response.
The state House has six Black representatives from eastern counties. Next year, there will be just three. Two – one Democrat and one Republican – will be new members.