Think peo­ple first, not party first

Maryland Independent - - Community Forum -

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.

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