Un­likely al­lies against ger­ry­man­der­ing emerge

Maryland Independent - - Community Forum -

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.

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