Unlikely allies against gerrymandering emerge
Gov. Larry Hogan likes to call Maryland the most gerrymandered state in the country. Now while we haven’t reviewed the congressional district maps for each of the other 49 states, one look at Maryland’s pretty much makes Hogan’s case.
Scanning the eight districts, our own corner of the state looks solidly linked geographically. The 5th District comprises St. Mary’s, Calvert, Charles and a southern chunk of Prince George’s. The Eastern Shore is pretty well intact, too — although the 1st District’s stretch across the Susquehanna into parts of Harford and Baltimore counties is interesting. Most of the state’s other six districts are all over the place and rather oddly connected.
The last time redistricting occurred in Maryland was in 2011 under Gov. Martin O’Malley. O’Malley, a Democrat, termed out of office in 2014 and Hogan, a Republican, was elected. One of Hogan’s campaign pledges was to do away with gerrymandering once and for all.
Gerrymandering is an old political term with a colorful history, stemming from an 1812 political cartoon in the Boston Gazette showing Gov. Eldridge Gerry’s map for the Massachusetts Senate looking like some sort of demonic salamander — the “Gerry-mander.” The term stuck.
One look at Maryland’s most recently cut congressional map clearly shows that rather than using preexisting communities and other sensible geographic boundaries, O’Malley had squiggled lines in the name of political expediency on the part of the Democrats — not that they needed much help in this blue state to begin with.
Prior to the redistricting, Maryland Republicans held two of the state’s eight congressional districts. O’Malley’s plan took that down to just one by marrying Maryland’s rural western counties in a district with some Washington, D.C., suburbs.
As part of his legislative package in this year’s General Assembly session, Hogan is renewing his efforts to end gerrymandering through the establishment of a bipartisan redistricting process. Hogan has proposed the Redis- tricting Reform Act of 2017.
And Hogan appears to have a surprise supporter in his efforts to end gerrymandering — O’Malley himself.
“We must, on a state-by-state basis, push for an end to gerrymandered congressional districts,” reads a copy of a speech O’Malley gave last month at the Boston College School of Law.
It is an interesting about-face from the man who approved the map for the 3rd District, which starts in Annapolis, wraps around Severna Park on its way to Glen Burnie, slides under Fort Meade on its way to Laurel and out to Olney before shooting a narrow path back up to include a sliver of Baltimore as it heads out west again to Towson. It is one sneaky snake of a district.
“As a governor, I held that redistricting pen in my own Democratic hand. I was convinced that we should use our political power to pass a map that was more favorable for the election of Democratic candidates. That in this hyper-partisan era, we should not ‘disarm unilaterally.’ That this was legal and passes constitutional muster. And it did,” O’Malley’s speech reads, like a confession.
It is good to see O’Malley recognizing the errors of his gerrymandering ways. We hope he will give some form of his Boston College speech again in Annapolis, before General Assembly committees, in an effort to move forward a bipartisan redistricting process such as the one for which Hogan is calling. Southern Maryland is solidly composed, but most of the rest of the state needs to more logically fall back into place.