PoliZette

Democrats Jealously Guard Gerrymandered Districts in Maryland

Annapolis example shows willingness of progressives to engage in self-serving line-drawing

When Maryland’s Republican Gov. Larry Hogan recently vetoed a congressional-redistricting reform bill that he described as “phony,” he was being unduly charitable.

Mr. Hogan also called the measure a “smoke screen,” but if the Democrat-dominated General Assembly intended for it to be a smoke screen, it was an epic failure. Political smoke screens are meant to obscure and cover things up, but the vetoed measure was transparent in its intent to preserve a self-serving political status quo in Maryland.

Ninety-five years of Democrats’ stranglehold on Maryland politics is enough.

Mr. Hogan has submitted legislation in each of his first three years in Annapolis that would turn responsibility for reconfiguring congressional and state legislative districts over to an independent board. The next redistricting will occur after the 2020 decennial census.

Not surprisingly, the bill went nowhere in the General Assembly, where Democrats enjoy veto-proof majorities in both chambers, due in no small part to gerrymandering.

A May 2014 Washington Post analysis of congressional-district gerrymandering across the country found Maryland tied with North Carolina for the most gerrymandered state in the nation. It also found Maryland’s 3rd Congressional District the second-most gerrymandered out of all 435. Represented by Democratic Rep. John Sarbanes, the 3rd District “gerry-meanders” across four counties and was famously described by a federal judge as resembling “a broken-winged pterodactyl, lying prostrate across the center of the state.”

Unashamed, Annapolis Democrats agreed to turn redistricting over to an independent panel, but only if five other East Coast states — Virginia, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, New York, and New Jersey — joined Maryland in a regional compact and did so first.

They did so because they knew full well that legislators in those other states would surely also say, “You first.”

As an aside, it’s unclear why New York, New Jersey and North Carolina, states that don’t share a border with Maryland, were included in this not-so-compact compact, while West Virginia, a state that does, wasn’t. (They couldn’t very well include Delaware, which has just one at-large congressional district.)

To their credit, two liberal groups, Common Cause Maryland and the League of Women Voters, applauded Mr. Hogan’s veto.

Both have advocated nonpartisan redistricting and said the multistate compact — the cynical, too-clever-by-half idea of state Sen. Craig Zucker, Montgomery Democrat — “set an impossibly high bar.” That, of course, was the intent all along.

Apart from the compact approach reeking of Barack Obama’s “leading from behind,” if redistricting reform is a good idea, why would you wait for others to go first? Why wouldn’t a “progressive” state like Maryland want to lead by example?

“Instead of choosing fairness and real, nonpartisan reform, they pushed through a phony bill masquerading as redistricting reform,” Mr. Hogan said. “It was nothing more than a political ploy designed with one purpose in mind, and that was to ensure that real redistricting reform would never happen in Maryland.”

While indefensible, it’s also understandable why Maryland Democrats would prefer the status quo. Incredibly, it’s enabled them to hold onto veto-proof majorities in Annapolis for nearly a century, since 1922.

Ironically, the Democrats’ current supermajority might well enable them to enact the sham redistricting bill over Mr. Hogan’s veto. That would require 85 votes in the House, where the bill received 87, and 29 in the Senate, where it got 30.

That’s all the more reason Maryland Republicans should go all out in their plan to flip five seats in the state Senate, thereby breaking Democrats’ one-party stranglehold on the state and eliminating their veto-proof majority in at least one chamber of the legislature.

Those supermajorities have enabled them to spurn compromise and override several of Mr. Hogan’s vetoes and ram through unwise legislation on matters ranging from restoring voting rights for felons on probation or parole to a costly renewable-energy scheme.

Mr. Hogan, currently enjoying a 65 percent job-approval rating, is set to put his considerable political capital behind Maryland Republicans’ “Drive for Five” campaign in 2018, when he will be up for re-election.

To that end, they’ve targeted six state Senate districts — in Anne Arundel, Baltimore and Frederick counties and on the Eastern Shore — that the Democrats won narrowly despite Mr. Hogan winning them by wide margins in 2014.

Ninety-five years of Democrats’ stranglehold on Maryland politics is enough.

Peter Parisi is a freelance writer and editor who wrote and edited for The Washington Times for 17 years.