GREENSBORO — Jon Hardister hasn’t gotten much sleep lately.
“Three, four hours a night,” the N.C. House representative from Guilford County said Friday. “The other night it was two hours.”
Since Hardister voted to approve a controversial Greensboro City Council redistricting bill Thursday, he has received dozens of emails and phone calls from constituents. A sample subject line from a recent email: “SHAME ON YOU!!”
Hardister said he understands the emotional reactions. He is trying to answer every phone call and email, he said, even if it means he is up until 3 a.m.
“It was one of the hardest decisions I’ve had to make as a legislator,” he said of the redistricting vote.
Hardister, a Republican, was for months hailed as a minor hero by both Democratic and Republican opponents of the bill.
He spoke passionately about the need for a local referendum on council changes and a transparent redistricting process.
He criticized a move by state Sen. Trudy Wade (R-Guilford) that folded the redistricting plan into a separate bill changing the Trinity City Council.
He rallied other House Republicans to defeat that bill — and succeeded.
But when a conference committee composed of state House and Senate members introduced a new redistricting map and brought it to a vote in 24 hours, Hardister abandoned his insistence on a referendum and supported the new plan.
When House members defeated the bill by a three-vote margin Thursday, Hardister changed his mind yet again.
“At that point, I just felt that the original plan had a vote and it failed and the new plan had a vote and it failed,” he said. “To reconsider it and vote again 45 minutes later, it was just going to look bad. The process was just moving too fast. I couldn’t support it.”
After a Republican Caucus, the House reconsidered the bill Thursday. It passed 57-46, prompting criticism that Hardister changed his vote after he knew it would make no difference.
Hardister denies that.
“In hindsight if I could go back, I’d say, ‘We don’t have to pass it this quickly,’ ” Hardister said. “We had a conference report. We could have taken time and considered it.”
Explaining why he didn’t do that, why he instead provided a critical swing vote that led other skeptical House Republicans to back the controversial bill, hasn’t been easy.
But neither is the complicated sausage-making process that is state legislation, Hardister said.
He said he still thinks the final bill was a good — if imperfect — compromise.
The new map does away with at-large representation in favor of eight districts and a mayor who only votes in case of a tie.
He said it will provide better representation and a better council structure than the original plan.
“I didn’t draw the map that passed,” Hardister said. “But it was eight districts instead of seven, which gives the mayor a chance to actually break some ties. And the districts look compact and of equal size to me.”
He didn’t get the referendum he wanted, Hardister said — but he’ll defend compromising to get the other two concessions. Those might not have been on the table had the bill failed and been resurrected over the course of the next year, he said.
What he won’t defend is the process.
“The legislative process is imperfect,” Hardister said. “You go into it knowing that, and you really have to weigh the merits of a bill against the process. Sometimes the process is so bad, you can’t support a bill no matter what the merits are. In the end, that’s where I was with this.”
Hardister said he felt pulled in three directions — that of his conscience, his constituents and his political party.
His conscience told him it was probably time the Greensboro City Council, which has been operating under the current council system since Hardister was born in 1982, saw some changes.
His constituents told him that if any changes were to be made to the council, they should be voted on by the people of Greensboro in a public referendum.
His party told him a referendum was a nonstarter for the Senate and, if held, would probably defeat any changes to the council. Instead, they felt, the bill had to pass in some form — and quickly, before the start of the candidate filing period, which is Monday. A provision in the bill passed Thursday pushes filing for council elections to July 27.
In retrospect, he said, there was no logical reason to rush.
“If it didn’t take effect this year, we could have taken it up next year and it would have taken effect in 2017,” he said. “When things move that fast and there’s all that pressure, it’s just not a good process.”
Hardister said he knows some people will call him a waffler.
And it won’t be the first time it’s happened this session.
Earlier this month Hardister was absent for a personal matter during the close, controversial vote on allowing government officials to opt out of performing same-sex marriages. It wasn’t intentional, he insists — the vote was just held on a day when enough House members who were against the bill were known to be absent.
Hardister said he’s not worried either of those votes are going to be a political problem for him.
“All I can do is explain my thought process,” he said. “And when I’ve done that, when I take the time to reply and have a conversation when someone asks me, they usually respect my position — even if we don’t agree.”
Contact Joe Killian at (336) 373-7023, and follow @JoeKillianNR on Twitter.