Thursday, July 7, 2011

Redistricting in Maryland: Can O'Malley Make Maryland a Republican-Free Zone?

Update: Make sure your voice is heard - there will be 12 public hearings on the issue of redistricting - dates and times are available here.

Governor O'Malley has named the members of his Redistricting Task Force and no one should be surprised by its composition.

  • Jeanne D. Hitchcock will serve as chair of Task Force. Hitchcock is O'Malley's Secretary of Appointments. Prior to joining the governor's office, she served as Deputy Mayor to then-Mayor Martin O'Malley.
  • Thomas V. Mike Miller, Jr., Maryland State Senate President since 1987 and a veteran of past redistricting efforts in 1991 and 2001.
  • Michael E. Busch, Maryland Speaker of the House since 2003.
  • James King, a former member of the House of Delegates from 2007 to 2011. King is a Republican, but he sided with O'Malley in the past, specifically on the issue of a Slots referendum.
  • Richard Stewart, President and Chief Executive Officer of Montgomery Mechanical Services Incorporated.

The Task Force is decidedly Democratic and regardless of O'Malley's promise that the task force will develop a map that represents the diversity of Maryland this will be a decidedly partisan affair and the only thing represented will be the interests of Martin O'Malley and the state Democratic Party.

Recent Census data shows that Maryland's population has grown, but more important to the redistricting process, it has grown more in some Congressional Districts than in others. This means the redistricting Task Force must balance out the district populations such that each district has roughly 721,000 people.

The table below shows the districts that must shrink (Blue) and the ones that need to grow (Green).

A quick review of the table should show why Democrats are excited about redistricting - 2 of the 3 districts that must shrink are home to Maryland's only two Republican members of Congress. Democrats would very much like to eliminate at least one of those Republicans and most of the focus is on the 1st Congressional District and Representative And Harris. Harris was narrowly defeated in 2008, but won decisively in 2010 in a district that is roughly equally split between Democrats and Republicans - it is Maryland's only swing district.

The 6th Congressional District is more solidly Republican and it would take more than a shift of 17,000 voters to make it competitive.

Democrats may have a very tough time trying to improve upon their current 6 to 2 advantage in the state's Congressional delegation and it largely results from the successful redistricting process completed after the 2000 Census. Prior to the 2001 round of redistricting, Maryland's Congressional delegation was split 4 to 4 between Republicans and Democrats. A Task Force (of 4 Democrats and 1 Republican) appointed by then Governor Parris Glendening developed a map that altered the boundaries of the 1st and 2nd Congressional districts so that two Republicans - Robert Ehrlich and Wayne Gilchrest would now be in the 1st Congressional district. Ehrlich opted to run for governor (and won). The newly open 2nd district was more Democratic and elected Democrat Dutch Ruppersberger.

Maryland's 8th Congressional district was home to moderate Republican Connie Morella. Morella's district consisted of much of Montgomery County and her strength came from the Republican northern suburbs. To eliminate Morella, Montgomery county was spread across three Congressional districts with the more Republican elements packed into the reliably conservative 6th Congressional district.

The plan in 2001 was clear - elect more Democrats. Casper Taylor (D-Allegany), then Speaker of the Maryland House said the plan was the best way to elect more Democrats, arguing "We Democrats deserve six [Democrats] and two" Republicans.

The plan worked. Morella was defeated, Ehrlich left - the delegation was 6 to 2. In 2008, moderate Republican Wayne Gilchrest was defeated in the Republican primary by conservative Andy Harris. Harris narrowly lost to Frank Kratovil thanks largely to the Obama win in Maryland. For 2 years Democrats enjoyed a 7 to 1 advantage, but Harris won big in 2010 and now Democrats want the 7 to 1 advantage back.

But how can they do it? Below is a map of the current Congressional districts. The first thing that she be obvious is that the 2001 Task Force produce a work of partisan art - the 2nd, 3rd, 4th are ridiculously drawn districts - drawn not to preserve existing communities but to maximize Democratic votes. Baltimore City is chopped up and spread across 3 districts (denying Baltimore a dedicated member of Congress) and Montgomery County is spread across 3 districts to dilute Republican votes and maximize Democratic votes.

The 1st Congressional district covers the Eastern Shore and then slices of Harford and Baltimore County and hops across the Bay Bridge to include parts of Anne Arundel County.

So what can Democrats do in 2011 to improve upon their master gerrymandering stroke of 2001? First, they need to accept that the dream of an 8 to 0 delegation is a lost cause. It would require to many changes to current districts and the state's 6 sitting members of Congress are unlikely to accept that. Democrats should take the 17,000 voters from Bartlett's 6th Congressional district and add them to Edward's 4th and Cummings' 7th. Both districts are overwhelmingly Democratic and overwhelmingly African-American - they could easily absorb the 6th Districts excess (even if that excess is more Republican). Edwards won re-election with 83% of the vote and a 130,000 vote margin in 2010.

Cummings' 7th district would still be well shy of 721,000 and the best scenario would be to take a significant chunk of Prince Georges county from Hoyer's 5th district along with elements of Anne Arundel county. Cummings won with 75% and a 106,000 vote margin in 2010 - Cummings needs 60,000 new members in his district, but so long as some of those folks come from Prince Georges County he can absorb more Republican voters.

Hoyer's strength is in Prince Georges and Charles County and he would likely protest the loss of parts of Prince Georges County, but the task force could compensate Hoyer by taking elements of Anne Arundel - a portion of his district that he lost in 2010. Hoyer won with 65% of the vote and an 85,000 vote margin in 2010 - but he lost Anne Arundel County by 12 percentage points (he'd be happy to see it go). Hoyer's district includes 231,000 voters in Prince Georges County and 37,000 in Anne Arundel - he can afford to lose some Prince Georges county voters so long as he loses most, if not all, of his Anne Arundel voters.

Those changes would balance the populations in the 4th, 5th, 6th, and 7th Districts - leaving only the 1st and the 2nd. The 1st Congressional district needs to shed 22,000 voters and the 2nd Congressional district must add nearly the same - this present Democrats with their greatest chance for a seat gain. Ruppersberger won reelection in 2010 with 64% of the vote and a 64,000 vote margin. Harris won 55% and a 35,000 vote margin. Anne Arundel, Baltimore, and Harford counties accounted for nearly 28,000 of his 35,000 vote victory.

The Task Force could take elements of those three counties and move them into Ruppersberger's district - the problem being that Harris won by 35,000 votes and can only lose 22,000 (and some of the 22,000 would be Democrats). Ruppersberger won by 64,000 votes but any movement of Republicans into his district would make it more competitive - at present, it is the most competitive Democratic district in the state.

I believe that the scenario I just presented is the best option for the Democrats - the only way to ensure an 8 to 0 or even 7 to 1 delegation advantage would be via dramatic changes in the states current congressional districts - but I see no way that the state's 6 incumbent Democrats would accept such radical change. Rather, Democrats can make the 1st Congressional district more friendly to Democrats while only making the 2nd district slightly more competitive. The 6th Congressional district must remain a Republican stronghold.

As a final note, I would like to add that I find the whole process of partisan redistricting to be an affront to representative democracy. As with many states, Maryland's current Congressional district map is a ridiculous mess of oddly drawn districts. Communities are divided, counties spread across multiple districts, Baltimore City is treated like a cash machine for Democratic voters spread across 3 districts when it could have its own member of Congress. It would be nice to see the Task Force propose a map that respects county lines, regardless of partisan advantage - that, of course, will not happen.

I would also like to commend the Maryland GOP for releasing their own proposed map:
Notice how county lines are respected. Note as well that Maryland's traditionally recognized regions are represented. The Eastern Shore, Southern Maryland, the DC suburbs, Central Maryland, and Western Maryland. Baltimore City would have a dedicated member of Congress.

Compare the proposed map to the current map - no embarrassments like the presently drawn 2nd, 3rd and 4th Congressional districts. Baltimore County appears to be the only county in more than two districts and even there the division makes sense as elements of the county are joined with Baltimore City.

The Maryland GOP map would protect the 1st and 6th districts for the party. It's also likely that the 2nd, but especially the 3rd would become more competitive. In fact the 3rd would probably flip to the Republicans. But a 5 to 3 delegation would be more representative of Maryland than the current 6 to 2. Democrats make up 56% of Maryland voters, but hold all statewide offices and 75% of the Congressional Delegation. The current district map was drawn to ensure that Democrats won more seats than their registration advantage would naturally produce and it marginalizes Republicans and the growing number of unaffiliated voters in the state. If the Redistricting Task Force draws a map that would make Maryland a 7 to 1 state, 87.5% Democrats in Congress, it would be a body blow to the actual political diversity of the state, a tremendous abuse of process, and a victory for the worst kind of petty partisan politics.

If I were on the Governor's Redistricting Task Force I would walk into work today, hand out copies of the GOP proposal and declare the job done. That probably helps to explain why I am not on the Task Force. That said, the Maryland GOP has proposed a reasonable map, one not marked by partisan gerrymandering, will the Governor's Task Force rise to the occasion and release an equally responsible map?

In a future post I'll talk about Maryland's State Legislative districts - I think there will be a far more drama in the redrawing of those districts.