Think people first, not party first
The Democratic-controlled Maryland Senate has OK’d an essentially meaningless redistricting reform measure that ties the creation of a nonpartisan congressional redistricting commission in Maryland with the approval of similar measures in five other Mid-Atlantic states.
In doing so, the Maryland Senate rejected a better measure that had been proposed by an independent panel and supported by Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, a Republican. The Hogan-backed plan would have established an independent commission to draw lines for the state’s eight congressional districts.
The last time redistricting occurred in Maryland was in 2011 under Democratic Gov. Martin O’Malley. Hogan was elected in 2014, and one of his campaign pledges was to end the state’s practice of gerrymandering.
Gerrymandering is an old political term people love to use. It has 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 a demonic salamander — the “Gerry-mander.” The term stuck. One look at Maryland’s congressional map from 2011 clearly shows that rather than use pre-existing communities and other sensible geographic boundaries, O’Malley squiggled lines in the name of political expediency on the part of the Democrats — not that they need much help in this blue state to begin with.
Prior to the redistricting, Maryland Republicans held two of the state’s eight congressional districts, or 25 percent of the seats. O’Malley’s plan took that down to one by joining the state’s rural western counties in a district with Washington, D.C., suburbs, giving Republicans 12½ percent of Maryland’s seats in the House of Representatives. But Democrats account for only 55 percent of the state’s registered voters (not 87½ percent), while Republicans are 26 percent.
O’Malley then strengthened the Republicans’ hold on the 1st District, comprising the entirety of the Eastern Shore, by extending it through Harford and Baltimore counties.
Although O’Malley backed off his earlier position and expressed support for state-by-state redistricting reform in a speech earlier this year, Democrats in the Maryland Senate opted to back a measure that ties any change in Maryland to reforms across the region.
Their argument is that Democrats should not give up their power to draw districts favoring Democrats in Maryland as long as Republicans maintain that power in states they control.
That argument works if the primary responsibility of elected officials is to their political party and that party’s national interests.
But Maryland officials are elected to represent the best interests of the state and the constituents in their districts. Party should come last, not first. It seems that putting party first is one of the major problems plaguing the American political system today.
Partisan interests rule over the best interests of state and country. Compromise is frowned upon. Legislating and governing take a back seat to scoring political points.
After losing the governorship in 2014 to a Republican in a Democratic-controlled state, we would have expected Democratic leaders in Annapolis to do their best to represent all of Maryland’s voters rather than focusing on the party and its liberal base.