The 12th Congressional District, once the nation's most litigated, was back in court this week -- and sparked a war of words between two of Mecklenburg County's most influential politicians.
In a Raleigh courtroom, a special three-judge panel heard arguments in a case challenging the state's 2011 redistricting.
Testifying Tuesday, U.S. Rep. Mel Watt, a Charlotte Democrat, recounted a conversation with Republican Sen. Bob Rucho of Matthews, who chaired the Senate Redistricting Committee.
According to the Associated Press, Watt said Rucho told him that Republican leaders "had told him that they were going to ramp the 12th Congressional District up to over 50 percent black" and "had given him the task of going out and selling this to the black community as being in their interest."
“He was telling me that he was going to have to sell this to the African-American community,” Watt recalled Tuesday, adding that Rucho asked for his help.
Watt said he was later upset to hear that Rucho had been telling people that Watt had helped influence the shape of the redrawn district. Watt said he wanted to let the public know the new district was not his idea.
“I don’t lie to people,” Watt said. “I don’t expect them to lie about me either.”
Rucho, Watt's former dentist, didn't get a chance to testify until Wednesday. On Thursday he sat down again to set the record straight.
First a little about the district. Half its registered voters are African American, an increase from 43 percent under the old plan. Sixty-four percent of voters are Democrats. That an increase from 58 percent. By putting more Democrats in the 12th District, Republicans effectively made some neighboring districts -- particularly the 8th -- friendlier to Republicans.
Rucho said he and GOP leaders wanted to put more Democrats in the 12th, not African Americans. He said he never told Watt GOP leaders had asked him to put more minority voters in the district.
"When he said we were drawing majority-minority districts as if we were using race, that's totally erroneous," Rucho said Thursday.
He said he never implied that Watt had endorsed the redrawn district. And Rucho added, "I didn't like being called a liar."
"I didn't like it when he misrepresented the facts of the case and I'm wondering for what reason? Especially under oath."
Watt could not be reached.