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Gerrymandered off the Hill, Kathy Manning eyes what’s next

‘They passed the most egregiously partisan map they could possibly pass,’ North Carolina Democrat says

“Partisan gerrymandering is a real problem,” says North Carolina Democratic Rep. Kathy Manning.
“Partisan gerrymandering is a real problem,” says North Carolina Democratic Rep. Kathy Manning. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Rep. Kathy Manning has no interest in retiring, which is precisely what she’s doing at the end of this term.

“I have no idea what I’m going to do when this job is over,” the North Carolina Democrat told Roll Call during a sit-down interview a few weeks ago.

Manning, of course, isn’t really choosing to leave Congress so much as being forced out. Following state judicial elections in 2022, the new GOP majority on the North Carolina Supreme Court reversed a recent decision that barred partisan gerrymandering, paving the way for Republicans in the state legislature to draw up new congressional maps that heavily disfavor Manning and her fellow Democrats. 

Under court-drawn maps used in 2022, the swing state elected an even set of seven Democrats and seven Republicans to the House; in 2024, Republicans can safely expect to capture 10 or 11 seats. 

While some of her colleagues quickly pivoted to pursue other offices, Manning took a wait-and-see approach, hoping to remain in the House before eventually accepting the reality that no Democrat has much of a shot in the newly formed district. Manning may be done with running for office for now, but “I’m not ready to give up trying to help my community,” she said. 

This interview has been edited and condensed.

Q: You came to Congress in 2021. Are you going to miss it?

A: I started in the middle of COVID, and I was caught in the House gallery during the insurrection. That was my third day in Congress, so that’s a pretty tough way to start a new job. 

We didn’t have our committee meetings in person [during the pandemic]. Literally everything was done by Zoom. The only advantage was I got to learn a lot of names because I could look at all the different boxes on the screens and figure out who was who. 

Like any new job, it takes a while to figure out who I could work with and how to work best, but I absolutely will miss it. It’s a privilege to get to represent your community.

Q: You’re leaving because of gerrymandering in North Carolina. The state legislature drew a pretty partisan new map.

A: Let’s be clear. They passed the most egregiously partisan map they could possibly pass to get rid of as many Democrats as they could in Congress.

In the past when there used to be gerrymandering, it used to be a best guess. Today, they can gerrymander with surgical precision because of computer programs. So this is a different kind.

The district I represented the first time is a Triad district, and if you know anything about North Carolina, [you know] Greensboro, High Point and Winston-Salem are in the Triad. It is the absolute definition of a community of interest. And now I represent all of Guilford County, which is Greensboro, High Point, Kernersville and a little bit of Winston, but still communities of interest. And I also represent Rockingham County and Caswell County, two more rural areas.

What makes me the most angry is that the communities I love are not going to have a representative who represents their interests and their values.

Q: That answer makes me think you’re not ready to give up being a politician. What’s next for you?

A: I’m not ready to give up trying to help my community. But I have no idea what I’m going to do when this job is over. I spent much of last year hoping that the Republican-led legislature would do the right thing in redrawing the maps, which obviously they didn’t. 

And then I spent a couple months really examining the maps to see if I ran on my record in any of the three pieces that the district had been divided into, and if I really worked hard to get out and talk to people, was there any way to win? And, you know, there’s not. You can’t win in a map where your opponent, whoever he or she might be, has a 16-point advantage. 

Q: What about other elected offices? Jeff Jackson was in a similar boat with redistricting, and he decided to run for state attorney general.

A: Honestly, I really haven’t thought about it. I was trying to figure out if there was any way to stay in this job. It was a tough decision, but it was the right decision. And now I’m focused on figuring out what I can get done in the time I have left.

Q: What can you get done?

A: We’ve worked on health care issues, bringing down the cost of health care. And I have another round of community project grants that I get to submit. We’ve been very successful in bringing money back to the district: for child care, for food banks, for innovation districts to help renovate some rundown areas, for a homeless shelter. 

We’ve got one more chance to get federal dollars. I know that whoever takes over any of the three pieces of my district probably won’t submit for community funding because a lot of the Republicans don’t believe in bringing our own tax dollars back to help us. 

Q: What has surprised you about working in Congress?

A: I think it’s amazing that anything gets done.

Q: Why?

A: Because the partisan divide is so disruptive. Last Congress, thanks to really extraordinary leadership on our side of the aisle, we were able to get more significant legislation passed than probably any administration in 50 years, like the infrastructure law and the Inflation Reduction Act. 

But now that I see us operating with a divided Congress, I see how challenging it is. I have good friends on the other side of the aisle — people I have traveled with, people I’ve been on committees with — and they’re well-meaning people, but a lot of them are just afraid to step out of line from what Donald Trump wants. 

Q: What do you think needs to happen to reduce the partisan divide?

A: Well, I think partisan gerrymandering is a real problem. Some members who are in gerrymandered districts have to get through the primary but never have to worry about the general. They don’t have to focus on what people with different political leanings want and how you move forward. 

I’ll be honest, another thing that’s a problem is running every two years, because once you’re into the second year and people are looking at running again, it’s really hard to get things done. 

Q: What are you most proud of from your time here?

A: Number one, how much I’ve been out listening to my community and bringing back funding.

And I have to say, one of my proudest moments was in my first term, when I was able to pass my Right to Contraception Act in the House. That was a bill we thought of when the Roe decision was leaked, and we realized they weren’t going to stop at the stripping away of abortion rights. We got support from all the relevant outside groups and got it on the House floor within two weeks. This term, I’ve been trying to get a Republican co-lead, but we haven’t been successful. Even though they know contraception is an issue, they’re afraid to do anything that might give a benefit to Democrats.

I’m very proud of the work I’ve done in leading the Bipartisan Task Force for Combating Antisemitism. We’ve had an explosion of antisemitism in this country, and not just since Oct. 7 — it predates that. We pushed the Biden administration to put together an interagency task force, which they did, and they introduced the first-ever U.S. national strategy to counter antisemitism.

Q: What about your biggest regret?

A: That I have to leave.

Quick hits

What are you reading? “The Two-Parent Privilege,” which talks about the advantage kids have when they’re lucky enough to grow up in a two-parent household. 

In politics, can the ends justify the means? It depends on the ends. If the desired end is to be a dictator, and you do it by disrupting the peaceful transfer of power, then no.

Your least popular opinion? Apparently my least popular opinion is that gerrymandering should be outlawed by the Supreme Court.

One thing you’ll miss about Congress? I will miss working with my staff. I have this great team both in D.C. and in my district.

One thing you won’t miss? I won’t miss having to leave my husband home by himself all the time. Being a member of Congress is really hard on your spouse.

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