July 15, 2018
Politics & Opinion
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Following So-And-So Off A Cliff

Delegate Michael Malone
Delegate Michael Malone's picture
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June 27, 2017

My wife and I have four children, so it's not terribly uncommon to overhear something like:

Parent: I can't believe you did X.

Child: So-and-so did it first.

Parent: If so-and-so jumped off a cliff, would you follow him?

Democratic leaders in Maryland seem to think it's OK to follow so-and-so or to believe that two wrongs make a right. They apparently believe that gerrymandering is acceptable because they supposedly didn't start it and other states are doing it.

According to a recent report in the Washington Post, Maryland has the dubious distinction of being tied with North Carolina for having the most gerrymandered congressional districts in the U.S. Maryland has 24 counties and eight congressional districts. Anne Arundel is drawn into four of those districts, so Pasadena shares a congressman with Suitland in District 4, Edgewater shares a congressman with Pikesville in District 3, and Brooklyn Park shares a congressman with Aberdeen in District 2.

In a state where Democrats outnumber Republicans two to one, Democrats have drawn the congressional lines to limit Republicans to just one of Maryland's eight congressional representatives. To truly visualize this problem, I urge you to look at a map of our congressional districts, which the Washington Post likened to “blood spatter at a crime scene” and the Supreme Court called a “crazy quilt.”

The local campaign against gerrymandering is a two-front war. As confirmed by a February Goucher poll, Marylanders overwhelmingly prefer having an independent commission, not political incumbents, draw district lines. In August 2015, Governor Larry Hogan established a bipartisan committee to address redistricting. This committee held five public meetings throughout the state to gather input from citizens, legislators and scholars, and resulted in the Hogan-backed Redistricting Reform Act of 2017.

Unfortunately, this real redistricting reform did not pass the Democratically controlled legislature. What did pass was a proposal for a “Mid-Atlantic regional compact,” which basically said that Maryland will address redistricting reform only if all of five states — New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Virginia and North Carolina — embrace redistricting reform by 2020. Alexander Williams Jr., a former U.S. District Court judge and former state's attorney for Prince George’s County, criticized the compact in the Baltimore Sun, saying it makes no sense; would not assure a fair, balanced and nonpartisan system; and is a “frivolous distraction in place of a willingness to tackle reform seriously.” Given that the compact was unlikely to accomplish anything, Governor Hogan vetoed it.

Despite judicial reluctance to enter the political arena of redistricting reform, Steve Shapiro and others have sued in federal court. They argue that the District 6, which in 2011 drew Democratic parts of Montgomery and Frederick counties into Republican western Maryland, is so unfairly drawn as to rob the voters of their First Amendment and other constitutional rights. Recent depositions confirm what is obvious from the lines themselves. Governor O'Malley admitted that he drew congressional district lines to favor Democrats, saying that “[it] was my hope … [it] was also my intent to create … a district where the people would be more likely to elect a Democrat than a Republican.”

Democratic leaders hired outside analysts to create more than 20 alternatives, using advanced mapping software, voter registration data, and voter history. One of the analysts affirmed that two overarching purposes drove the maps: incumbent protection and creating another Democratic district. The effect was to oust Republican Roscoe Bartlett, who had won re-election by double-digit margins for more than two decades. Nonetheless, Shapiro's case faces an uphill battle, as the Supreme Court has long resisted involvement in non-racial gerrymandering, both believing that the courts may not be the appropriate arena for such disputes, and struggling with creating a standard for deciding them.

I applaud Steve Shapiro. A former federal employee, he quit his job and enrolled in law school to continue battling redistricting, even though his suit, if successful, would benefit Republicans. Shapiro is a Democrat. So is Alexander Williams Jr. Gerrymandering affects all of us, Republicans and Democrats alike, because the system doesn't work when some are not fairly represented. While the legal arguments can get rather complicated, the principles are simple: Each person's vote should count, and each community's voice should be heard. Voters should be choosing their politicians instead of politicians choosing their voters. Let's not be lemmings following entrenched leaders and other states off the cliff of excessive partisanship. Let's do the right thing for all Marylanders.

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