Analysis: Legislative Redistricting Has Republicans Frowning

Commentary by Len Lazarick,

(December 18, 2011)—The two top Democrats in the General Assembly are pretty happy with the legislative district maps they helped draw, safely safely slicing the pie to protect their super-majorities. Republicans, on the other hand, are not pasting smiley face stickers on the plan submitted Friday evening, which could force some incumbents to run against each other.

“This map is a fair and balanced proposal,” said Senate President Mike Miller in the official press release.

House Speaker Michael Busch called it “a fair map” and one that “ensures every Marylander will have a voice in Annapolis.”

One Marylander likely to continue to have a voice in Annapolis is Busch himself, who represents the capital city. His new two-member district 30A moves Republican Del. Ron George out of the district where he got more votes than Busch, into another district where George may have to run against other Republicans.

The new district lines will also make it more difficult for Republican Del. Herb McMillan to win reelection since it moves GOP voters south into a heavily Republican single-member district now represented by Republican Del. Bob Costa, chair of the Anne Arundel County delegation now controlled by the GOP.

Other changes in Anne Arundel County might target Del. Don Dwyer, one of the Democrats’ most disliked Republicans.

In Carroll County, the new District 5 includes almost all of the county, now represented by Republican Sen. Joe Getty, and packs four GOP incumbent delegates into a three-member district.

A similar thing happens in Baltimore County, where the target appears to be Democratic Sen. Jim Brochin, who votes with Republicans on taxes and other issues. Brochin would have to run in a large Republican swatch of the county that he’s never represented.

Baltimore maintains Senate seats — maybe

The big news in the Baltimore region is that the Senate district Baltimore City expected to lose is now pushed into Baltimore County to the west, with a two-member delegate district. This follows the westward migration of African-Americans from the city, but hardly guarantees a city resident will hold the Senate seat.

The Governor’s Redistricting Advisory Committee achieved this by keeping all the Baltimore area Democratic districts 3 to 4% below the ideal population of 122,813, even pushing close to the plus or minus 5% variation Maryland courts have allowed.

Several Republican suburban districts, on the other hand, are 3 to 4% above the norm, meaning the still-growing Carroll County District 5 has 11,329 more people than District 43 in North Baltimore. It’s not exactly one person, one vote.

In all, the committee created two more Senate districts with African-American majorities in addition to the 10 that already existed. There are also four majority minority districts in Montgomery and Prince George’s counties when Latinos and Asians are taken into account. This might put white Prince Georgian senators such as Jim Rosapepe in a district that is now majority minority, but he is already preparing to run for comptroller.

The committee press release proudly noted that it had reduced the districts crossing county lines from 14 to 13. Miller noted that the committee tried to listen to the people who testified “while also remaining in full compliance with federal and State law.”

Appears committee followed state constitution

The committee clearly steered away from the disregard of the state constitutional guidelines that caused the Court of Appeals to throw out the map 10 years ago and draw its own.

None of the Assembly districts look as oddly misshapen as those in the congressional redistricting map that will have a hearing in federal court Tuesday.

Most of the legislative districts do look reasonably compact, recognizing county and municipal boundaries. Some have odd shapes, but Maryland itself is an oddly shaped state, bisected by the bay, and sliced by multiple rivers. There are few straight lines on the Maryland map, except for the Mason-Dixon Line forming the Pennsylvania border and the arbitrary borders of Baltimore City.

The gerrymandering in this year’s map is more subtle. Like the city of Annapolis, the more Democratic city of Frederick gets a two-member delegate district for no apparent reason. (The Democratic city of Hagerstown has long had a single-member district.)

Republican Party Chairman Alex Mooney on his Sunday radio show on WFMD called it an “embarrassing overreaching map.”

The GRAC will hold a hearing on the proposed map on Thursday at 10 a.m. in the Joint Hearing Room of the Legislative Services Building in Annapolis. This hearing responds to one of the criticisms of the legislative redistricting plan, for which there was no public hearing until it was submitted to the legislature a week later.

Republican Del. Michael Hough of Frederick has said he is preparing a map with more single-member districts.

There will still be time to fine tune the map before the governor submits it on Jan. 11, the first day of the legislative session. The legislature then has 45 days to change it, but generally does not, since it is hard to get a majority vote for any changes. If no changes are made, the plan automatically becomes law.

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