Friday, October 14, 2011

O'Malley's Amazing Opportunity

Martin O'Malley has decided to ask African-American voters to wait at least another decade for fair representation in Maryland... and apparently African-American leaders are ready to give up and say "thank you." At least Donna Edwards had the courage to protest, and hats off to the folks who walked out on the caucus capitulation meeting...

So when asked to choose between creating a third majority-minority district or creating a marginally Democratic district in Western Maryland, O'Malley decided that the mere chance of electing another white Democrat mattered more than boosting minority representation in Congress. So much for people asking Andrew Cuomo who?

Original Post:
Just last night I wrote that I did not envy Martin O'Malley and the choice he needs to make in the state redistricting battle.

Well that was so yesterday... O'Malley has just been presented with a golden opportunity to win and win big. Just as minority groups increased the pressure on presidential aspirant O'Malley to create a third majority-minority district in Maryland and on gubernatorial aspirant Doug Gansler (State Attorney General) to not support the legality of the proposed map (under a Voting Rights challenge) word comes that Marylanders for Marriage Equality will make a push for marriage equality legislation during next week's special session of the General Assembly.

Whether they realize it or not, Marylanders for Marriage Equality may have solved O'Malley's redistricting problem and delivered a big boost to his presidential aspirations. The real test will be whether O'Malley is ready to deal.

Marriage equality legislation died in the House of Delegates last Spring largely due to opposition from African-American community leaders and delegates in the Prince Georges and Montgomery County area - the same folks angry about the proposed redistricting map.

O'Malley needs to make the following deal:

He needs to propose a new map that creates a third majority-minority district in the Montgomery/Prince Georges region. In exchange for the new map, African-American leaders agree not to oppose marriage equality legislation and area senators and delegates agree to support the bill during the special session. This is a good deal for O'Malley and for the African-American community.

O'Malley scores a significant victory in the fight for marriage equality, earning him the respect of national Democratic party leaders and party activists (also known as donors and primary voters). African-American delegates and senators as well as community leaders score a victory as well, by agreeing to support a measure that in no way harms their communities they likely gain a new African-American member of Congress.

So what's the downside?  Creating a third majority-minority district would mean restoring the 6th Congressional district to a Republican district. The 330,000 Montgomery County voters that were to be added to the 6th would be removed and the voters in Frederick and most of Carroll county would be put back. This frees O'Malley to reconfigure the 8th congressional district. Presently, the 8th district is 37% minority, under the current proposal it would fall to 25% minority. O'Malley could restore the minority voters to the 8th, add additional voters from the 5th Congressional district (in exchange for some Anne Arundel voters currently in the 4th), and in pretty short order turn the 8th district into a majority-minority district.

Proposed Redistricting Map

This does mean that O'Malley would fail to deliver a new House seat to the Democratic party, harming their quest to reclaim the majority. But no party leader would hold that against him. No party activist would view this as a bad deal. In fact, O'Malley would likely earn tremendous respect for being willing to cut such a deal to secure marriage equality. What Democrat could possibly be upset over the twofer of marriage equality and increased minority representation?

Additionally, one can imagine a future debate where O'Malley decries the Republican party's petty partisanship and points out that while Republicans were engaging in egregious acts of gerrymandering in Texas, Pennsylvania, Ohio and elsewhere O'Malley rose above the partisan fray and put the interests of the people of his state ahead of all other considerations.

I have been critical of O'Malley for what often seems a lack of bold leadership and risk taking - with this deal all of that past criticism would fall away. If O'Malley can strike this deal he would demonstrate that he is not only ready for prime time, but that he'll be must see TV in the quest for 2016 Democratic presidential nomination.  If he pulls this off, people will start asking Andrew Cuomo who?

(An important side note - the one loser in all of this would be Chris Van Hollen. Van Hollen is a rising star in the Democratic party, but he would likely lose his district. But any effort to create a new majority-minority district would imperil one of the state's incumbent Democrats - this is simply unavoidable. Of course, Van Hollen may want to consider 2016 and the possibility of an open Senate seat.)