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Democratic Rep. G.K. Butterfield announces retirement, lashes out at North Carolina GOP’s ‘partisan map’

The Washington Post logo The Washington Post 11/18/2021 Mariana Alfaro

Rep. G.K. Butterfield (D-N.C.), who has served in Congress since 2004 and is a past chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, will not seek reelection in 2022 after North Carolina Republicans redrew his district in a way he calls “racially gerrymandered.”

Butterfield, who represented North Carolina’s 1st Congressional District, announced his decision on Thursday in a video statement condemning the state Republican-led assembly’s redrawing of his district, which he said unfairly disadvantages the Black voters there by significantly reducing their political power.

“The map that was recently enacted by the legislature is a partisan map,” Butterfield said. “It’s racially gerrymandered, it will disadvantage African American communities all across the first congressional district.”

Butterfield, 74, said he is “terribly disappointed” with the state’s Republican majority legislature “for gerrymandering our state’s congressional districts and putting their party politics over the best interests of North Carolinians.”

Butterfield, a civil rights attorney and a former member of the North Carolina Supreme Court, had no trouble being reelected in his once solidly-blue district, but the new congressional map turns the district into a highly competitive one.

In his 18 years on Capitol Hill, Butterfield amassed a solid liberal record and focused on aiding Black farmers. He has been a close ally of House Majority Whip James E. Clyburn (D-S.C.).

Butterfield served as the chair of the Congressional Black Caucus from 2015 to 2017, and vice chair from 2013 to 2015. Butterfield has, throughout his political career, been vocal about advancing voter rights, fighting the disenfranchisement of the Black vote, and supporting the Black Lives Matter movement.

“In the 21st century, efforts are still afoot to disenfranchise African American voters,” Butterfield warned during a 2015 speech during the caucus’s ceremonial swearing in. “We must tell the full story, for many Black Americans, they are not even close to realizing the American Dream … Black America is in a state of emergency today as it was at the turn of the century.”

Butterfield is the 16th House Democrat to decide not to seek reelection and instead retire or seek another office. On Tuesday, Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.) said she won’t run again in 2022.

While Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney (D-N.Y.), chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, thanked Butterfield for serving nine terms in Congress, a spokesman for the group said it is already preparing to find a candidate to replace Butterfield in the district.

“We are excited to run on our record in North Carolina and Congress while Republicans continue their race to the bottom, embracing extremism as Democrats work to unite and move our country forward,” said DCCC spokesperson Abel Iraola.

The National Republican Congressional Committee had added Butterfield to its list of Democrats to target in the 2022 campaign cycle just earlier this month.

“House Democrats’ retirement crisis is quickly becoming a five alarm emergency,” said Calvin Moore, communications director of the Congressional Leadership Fund, a Republican political action committee. “Butterfield isn’t the first retirement and certainly won’t be the last.”

Butterfield was first elected after the late Rep. Frank Ballance (D) resigned in June 2004. He’s won reelection since by large margins. In announcing his retirement, Butterfield said that not all hope is lost for Democrats in his district and that he remains hopeful that the courts will overturn the “partisan map and see that a fair map is enacted.”

“It is time for me to retire and allow the torch to be passed as someone who shares the values of the district and can continue the work I have labored so hard for the past 18 years,” Butterfield said.

No clear Democratic candidate has emerged yet to take on a bid for Butterfield’s seat.

In a statement, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) celebrated Butterfield’s work in advancing voting rights and enacting legislation to remove statues of those who fought in the Confederacy from the halls of the Capitol. She described Butterfield as an “esteemed and effective leader in the Congress and the country, who has dedicated his life to fighting for the people.”

“From the courtroom to the Congress, Congressman Butterfield has made it his mission for expand opportunity in America, and he has succeeded,” Pelosi said in a statement. “Congressman Butterfield’s leadership to protect our elections and to fight voter suppression — leading to passage of the SAFE Act and H.R. 4, the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act — has made a difference in ensuring that every American can make their voice heard and have a say in their democracy.”

Butterfield currently serves on the House Energy and Commerce Committee and the House Administration Committee. He chairs the House Subcommittee for Elections. He previously served on the House Armed Services and Agriculture Committees.

Just last month, Butterfield said he was planning on running again despite the redistricting. “I’m going to give it everything that I have,” he told ABC11.

“It is what we call retrogression. The district is retrogressed from 42 percent, African American to 38 percent. That violates the Voting Rights Act,” Butterfield said in that interview. “It is just baffling to me why the Republicans are not willing to prepare and deliver a fair map. It is not a fair map. It is a political gerrymander.”

Butterfield had won reelection in his district by margins as large as 50 points before 2020, when he won by 9 points — his closest election.

Republicans currently hold the majorities in the state’s House and Senate, and an 8-5 seat advantage in the House. The state’s two U.S. Senators, Richard Burr and Thom Tillis, are also Republicans. North Carolina gained a 14th congressional district this year due to the 2020 census.

The state’s new district map is already facing multiple lawsuits arguing that Republicans in the state’s General Assembly are dividing portions of the state’s urban counties in favor of Republican candidates. According to a lawsuit filed by the North Carolina League of Conservation Voters on Tuesday and reported by the Associated Press, the North Carolina General Assembly is grouping Black voters in some districts while breaking up Black voting blocks in other districts in an attempt to dilute their electoral power.

Another lawsuit, this one filed by the North Carolina NAACP, Common Cause and a group of voters, is challenging the state’s legislature map-drawing process, alleging that lawmakers failed to consider racial data or racially-polarized voting data when creating the new districts.

Butterfield is the second Democrat from North Carolina to announce he’s leaving the House — Rep. David E. Price said last month that he won’t run for reelection next year.


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