Gov. Larry Hogan’s Maryland Citizens Redistricting Commission has proposed a new map of congressional districts that are compact and contiguous, respecting county boundaries and communities. It is a model of what a nonpartisan redistricting process would produce.
And it has virtually no chance of being enacted by the Maryland General Assembly.
Hogan formally accepted the maps for new congressional and legislative districts drawn by the commission on Nov. 5 and signed documents calling for a special session of the General Assembly on Dec. 6 to redraw the congressional boundaries.
Hogan pledged to introduce the maps from the commission without any alteration. The state news website Maryland Matters said Hogan praised the work of the nine-member commission he created in January. Congressional maps must be redrawn after each decennial census to keep them roughly equal in population.
“The commission was given a clear and simple charge — insuring that the people of Maryland are able to choose their elected officials and not the other way around,” the governor said. “This is what real, non-partisan redistricting looks like.”
That’s true, but it is unlikely to make a difference when the maps meet the real world in Annapolis. The reason is that Democratic legislators control the process, and they are under tremendous pressure to insure that no Democratic seat in Congress is lost. Legislators have an advisory committee working on an alternative map.
Once upon a time, a few decades ago, Maryland’s congressional delegation had four Democrats and four Republicans. But as the state turned more Democratic, the number of Republicans slipped to two and then to one after the 2010 census.
About 55 percent of the registered voters in Maryland are Democrats and about 25 percent are Republicans. The rest are independents, not affiliated with a party. In an ideal world — that is, not this one — the GOP would at least have a chance of winning two, three or even four seats.
The goal of gerrymandering is to reduce that chance, to make it as low as feasible.
The same is true in Republican-controlled states, like Pennsylvania and North Carolina, where the GOP lawmakers are trying to hold onto as many seats as possible. Congressional delegations in both are heavily Republican, despite almost even voter registration.
Maryland Matters quoted Hogan as saying “every party is guilty” of gerrymandering. “Republicans do it when they have the power. Democrats do it. But it’s still wrong and it still needs to change.”
After the 2010 census, Maryland Democrats were widely denounced for gerrymandering the map to eliminate the Republican-held seat here is Frederick and Western Maryland. Democrats redrew the map to carve out two districts based in heavily Democratic Montgomery County, splitting Frederick County between them.
District 6, which had been represented by Republican Roscoe Bartlett from 1993 to 2013, became a Democratic seat, now held by Rep. David Trone, who is in his second term.
A challenge to that redistricting map, along with other gerrymandering cases from other states, was appealed all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court in 2019. But the high court ruled the courts did not have a role in deciding partisan complaints.
Voters in a few states have approved nonpartisan redistricting plans, but leaders of both parties say the problem must be addressed at the national level. So far, there has been no agreement to do anything. A bill sponsored by Rep. John Sarbanes (D-Md.) has been blocked by Republicans in Congress.
While the Hogan commission did not release voter registration numbers for the proposed new districts, its map is widely believed to at least make the 6th District competitive and probably make it lean toward the GOP.
Expecting Democrats in the General Assembly to go along with that is expecting them not to behave as politicians, which is what they are.