Saturday, July 30, 2011

Franchot Makes A Smart Move for 2014

In an interesting statement at the Board of Public Works meeting, State Comptroller Peter Franchot said "We have become uniquely tied at the hip or joined at the hip to the federal government," and lawmakers need to rededicate Maryland toward "a business climate that inspires, promotes and rewards private-sector investment in Maryland."

In stark contrast to Governor Martin O'Malley's frequent lauding of Maryland's reliance on federal jobs Franchot further argued "We as a state simply can't allow ourselves to become complacent and allow the federal government to become the economic engine of first and last resort in Maryland."

Franchot's comments sound like something that might have been said by Republican Bob Ehrlich during the 2010 gubernatorial contest - Ehrlich lost the race by 14.5 percentage points, but I think these comments signal a wise strategic move by Franchot as he looks to the 2014 Democratic gubernatorial primary.

At present, there are likely to be at least three big names seeking the Democratic nomination, Attorney General Doug Gansler, Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown, and Franchot.

Odds favor a Democrat winning the general election, regardless of the Republican nominee, so winning the Democratic primary is just a doorway to the governorship.

If Franchot faces Gansler and Brown then embracing a moderate to conservative agenda will help him.

Gansler is an unabashed liberal, his advisory opinion on Maryland recognizing same-sex marriage, his environmental crusading, and his firm support of gun control would make it impossible for him to claim to be anything but a member of the progressive wing of the Democratic party. Brown will undoubtedly lay an early claim to the significant African-American vote in the primary. African-Americans compose roughly a third of the Maryland population and are the most reliable Democratic voting bloc - yet the Democratic Party has never nominated and run an African-American candidate at the top of any statewide ticket. Brown is an accomplished legislator with an impressive resume and I believe that African-American voters would be quick to rally around his candidacy.

So between Gansler and Brown two of the most reliable segments of the Democratic primary voting population will be claimed - liberals and African-Americans. The only way for Franchot to be competitive is to target the folks who would be left out - white, moderate and conservative working class Democrats, of whom there are many in Maryland.

In a three-way race, if Gansler and Brown have split the base vote of the party, Franchot can emerge the victor with no more than 34% of the vote. It's a wise strategy, but also the only strategy available to him.

Only one thing could upend Franchot's approach - Jim Smith. Smith is the former county Executive from Baltimore County and a former judge. He is a moderate Democrat with a base of support in an important part of the state.

If Smith enters the race and Gansler and Brown split the base vote and Franchot and Smith split the moderate to conservative vote then anyone of them could become the nominee with no more that 26% of the vote.

But a four way race like that would likely divide the party. If one of the liberal candidates emerge then Republicans will have a fighting chance in the general election, but if Franchot or Smith win then the race is over - for Democrats to win the general election with a liberal candidate (against an acceptable GOP candidate) they need a unified party.

2014 seems so far away, but Franchot's comments remind us that it's closer than it seems.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

America Needs a Declaration of Independents...

There is so much to love in Jeffrey Sachs all out attack on the colossal failings of America's two major political parties.

Every part of the budget debate in the U.S. is built on a tissue of willful deceit. Consider the Republican Party's double-mantra that the deficit results from "runaway spending" and that more tax cuts are the key to economic growth. Republicans claim that the budget deficit, around 10 percent of GDP, has been caused only by a rise in outlays. This is blatantly untrue. The deficit results roughly equally from a fall of tax revenues as a share of GDP and a rise of spending as a share of GDP... The Democrats of the White House and much of Congress have been less crude, but no less insidious, in their duplicity... at every crucial opportunity, Obama has failed to stand up for the poor and middle class. He refused to tax the banks and hedge funds properly on their outlandish profits; he refused to limit in a serious way the bankers' mega-bonuses even when the bonuses were financed by taxpayer bailouts; and he even refused to stand up against extending the Bush tax cuts for the rich last December, though 60 percent of the electorate repeatedly and consistently demanded that the Bush tax cuts at the top should be ended. It's not hard to understand why. Obama and Democratic Party politicians rely on Wall Street and the super-rich for campaign contributions the same way that the Republicans rely on oil and coal. In America today, only the rich have political power.
Sachs concludes "America needs a third-party movement to break the hammerlock of the financial elites. Until that happens, the political class and the media conglomerates will continue to spew lies, American militarism will continue to destabilize a growing swath of the world, and the country will continue its economic decline."

I do not disagree with Sachs' assessment. I for one am tired of hearing partisans defend their party while proclaiming that "the other side" is the unreasonable party. A review of recent columns by leading opinion leaders on the Left and the Right reveals little more than an exercise in finger pointing and self righteous indignation. From the Left you'll hear that the Republicans are "hostage takers" willing to risk fiscal ruin to protect America's wealthy. On the Right you'll hear that President Obama and Congressional Democrats refuse to accept significant spending cuts because to do so would be to admit that the modern progressive era is over, and failed.

The truth is America is being ill-served by both parties as they seek to appeal to ever more partisan and polarized bases.

Some, argue that the American electorate is polarized as the two parties simply reflect that polarization. But there is little to no evidence that the general public is polarized - at least any more polarized now than at any point in the last 30 years. Rather we live in a two party system and the parties have become ever more polarized and controlled by partisan fringes. Polarized parties create the illusion of a polarized public. Problem is, a winner-take-all, plurality rule, two-party system is supposed to promote the creation of two moderate parties.

In his seminal work, Economic Theory of Democracy, Anthony Downs wrote when the electorate is polarized "regardless of which party is in office, half the electorate always feels that the other half is imposing policies upon it that are strongly repugnant to it... In this situation, if one party keeps getting reelected, the disgruntled supporters of the other party will probably revolt; whereas if he two parties alternate in office, social chaos occurs, because government policy keeps changing from one extreme to the other."

One could look to that passage as prophetic, but what if Downs had it backward? What if polarized parties led to the polarized electorate? Extensive research by Fiorina shows us that the mass public has not become more polarized even as the members of the two parties have - especially the most engaged members.

A recent study by Daniel Coffey (in PS: Political Science and Politics) determined that there is a direct and positive correlation between party competition and party ideology. As a state becomes more competitive between Republicans and Democrats the respective parties become ever more conservative and liberal.

So as politics became more competitive through the 1960s, 70s, 80s, and 90s the parties responded by becoming ever more ideological. V. O. Key argued that competition would force parties to offer more distinct policies to voters in an effort to influence their choice.

As competition increased the parties came to rely more heavily not on the median voter in a unimodal distribution, but rather on the more committed and active voters on the left and right of the distribution.

As the agendas of the political parties became ever more divergent Americans began to "sort" more neatly into one party or the other - and more Americans began to identify as either pure Independents or only loosely associated with a party. As the agenda of the Democratic Party became more liberal and the Republican Party more conservative, liberal Republicans left the party and became Democrats or Independents and conservative Democrats became Republicans or Independents.

The parties polarized, the public did not. There has been precious little change in the last 30 years with regard to the share of Americans who identify as Conservative, Moderate, or Liberal. Rather conservatives no longer feel comfortable in the Democratic Party and Liberals are no longer comfortable in the Republican Party - Moderates appear to be less comfortable with both parties.

The electorate is no more polarized now than in 1970, 1980, or 1990 - but the parties are. So of course 90% of Republicans vote Republican and 90% of Democrats vote Democrat. Of course Presidential approval correlates to party affiliation, it's the natural byproduct of party sorting, but party sorting is not the same as polarization. Moderate voters tend to split their support and vote at lower levels.

So what we have is a modification to Downs. The distribution of the American electorate (in the broadest sense) is unimodal which should promote more moderate parties, but the distribution of the most engaged and activist elements of the electorate is bimodal which has resulted in two polarized parties.

Steven Hill (author of Fixing Elections: The Failure of Winner Take All Elections) writes "one of the defining characteristics of a winner-take-all system is that it promotes adversarial politics so that on a whole host of issues it is painfully obvious that the overriding agenda for both major parties is... to stake out positions vis-a-vis the other side."

In the 1960s Republicans exploited several emerging schisms in the ranks of the Democratic Party's coalition in order to become competitive - schisms revolving around national security, welfare spending, and policies with regard to race relations. The party defined itself by being what the Democratic Party was not. Over time the parties increasingly defined themselves by being the antithesis of the other party.

This led to party sorting, internal partisan homogeneity, and the bimodal distribution of the engaged voters and the system now feeds off of that bimodal distribution even as the broader mass electorate's distribution remains unimodal.

And such a system can be maintained so long as the respective bases maintain intensity and the strategies used to motivate base voters do not alienate more moderate voters who are often needed to swing an election given the near parity of each party's base.

But what happens when the strategies, rhetoric, and policies required to maintain base allegiance begin to alienate more moderate voters? If those voters simply stop voting it may not matter, but if they continue to vote it could be very disruptive as they seek an electoral outlet.

It would be reasonable for one party to moderate and absorb those moderate voters, but doing so risks losing their base. So instead both parties engage in what Jacobs and Shapiro (Politicians Dont' Pander) describe as "crafted talk" in which they use words that suggest moderation even as they pursue very partisan policies. But the pursuit of those policies will push the moderate voters away - and they only have one other choice, the opposition party.
It's possible, that as the base strategy accelerates one would expect to see more see-saw elections like 2006 and 2010. Such oscillations in partisan control of government contributes to the present era's dysfunction, but so long as the parties remain committed to a polarized, partisan base strategy it will remain a feature of the present era.

And that brings us back to Sachs. America does not need a third party; rather America needs two new parties. In recent years we have seen an increase in the number of voter instigated ballot initiatives, rising levels of voter discontent, see-saw election results like the 2006 and 2010 midterms.

The evidence suggest that the broader electorate is beginning to resist and push back against the current political system. Perhaps disaffected voters in the broader electorate are nearing a critical mass and may soon be able to break the hold on the system by the two parties.

Only time will tell, but the current political system which emerged from the turmoil and tumult of the 1960s, has not lasted longer than any recognized political era in American history. Of course, our two major parties control campaign fundraising laws, ballot access, voter registration laws, the drawing of Congressional districts, the manner in which electoral votes are awarded, and access to the public airways. It's a duopoly more damaging than any monopoly in American history.

The only way to break their hold is to mobilize the growing number of folks who feel alienated from both parties, the 40% of folks who don't vote and in presidential elections, and the 60% who don't vote in Congressional elections. It's time for a revolution... not like 1776, but rather the electoral revolutions of 1800, or 1828, or 1860, or 1932.... we need systemic transformation from below and we need it soon.

America needs a Declaration of Independents... a declaration that we will no longer allow America's future and prosperity to be held hostage to the narrow ideological pursuits of the Democratic and Republican parties and the ideologues who fund them.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Just how Democratic is Maryland? Not as Democratic as You Think, but Still Pretty Democratic

As a follow up to my endorsement of the Maryland GOP's proposed redistricting map I wanted to discuss what I referred to as the true political diversity of Maryland. It is often remarked that Democrats enjoy a 2-to-1 voter registration advantage over Republicans in the state. This is quite true, the table below shows party registration numbers as of June.

As the table shows, Democrats hold a 56% to 26.6% registration advantage over Republicans. But the table shows two other important things often overlooked in a discussion of Maryland politics 1) though Democrats outnumber Republicans they still make up only 56% of all voters and 2) Independent or Unaffiliated voters make up a sizable chunk of the state's electorate.

Let's stay for moment with that 56% figure. As the majority party, it makes sense that Democrats would hold all or most (in fact all) statewide offices - Governor, Comptroller, Attorney General, both U.S. Senators. But regional offices should be a bit more competitive - still the Democrats hold 6 of 8 seats in the state's Congressional delegation (75%), 98 of the 141 seats in the House of Delegates (70%), and  35 of the 47 seats in the state Senate (75%). This is a pretty impressive accomplishment for a party that lays claim to only 56% of voters.

There are two possible explanations for this impressive hold on offices within the state 1) Independent and Republican voters actually vote for Democrats or 2) Maryland's 8 Congressional and 47 legislative districts have been gerrymandered such that Democrats are able to outperform their actual voter registration advantage.

So how do those Independent and Unaffiliated voters vote? Below is a table with election results and voter turnout for a selection of Maryland elections dating back to 2004. Included are the 2004 and 2008 presidential election, the 2010 gubernatorial election, and the results form the 2010 election in Maryland's 2nd and 5th Congressional districts. Included are the total votes received by the Republican and Democratic candidate as well as the total votes cast by Democrats, Republicans, and Independent/Unaffiliated voters.

Almost immediately you see that we can throw out explanation 1 (that Independent and Republican voters vote for Democrats). In nearly every election included in the table (and in nearly every election in Maryland) the Democratic candidate receives a vote total either just above, or in some cases just below, the total number of Democrats who voted in the election.

But look at the tallies for Republican candidates, in each election the Republican candidate received substantially more votes than there were Republicans voting. In 2004, George W. Bush received 1.024 million votes, yet only 733,000 Republicans voted. In 2010, Bob Ehrlich received 776,000 votes when only 578,000 Republicans voted. By way of contrast, O'Malley received 1.044 million votes which was 29,000 votes fewer than the total number of Democrats who cast ballots. Even in Congressional districts, Republicans outperform their partisan turnout.

What's going on? Simple, Independent/Unaffiliated voters overwhelmingly vote for Republican candidates, regardless of the office and regardless of turnout. To be fair, in every election some Republicans do vote Democrat and some Democrats do vote Republican (but most studies show that only abut 10% of voters cross party lines when voting). Republicans candidates in Maryland consistently outperform their share of registered voters casting ballots. In the 2004 presidential contest and the 2010 gubernatorial race I estimate that Republicans claimed the support nearly all Independent/Unaffiliated voters (in all likelihood Republicans actually won quite a few Democrats and O'Malley received more than 1.2% of Independents - but it all comes out in the wash). In 2004 68% of Independents turned out, but only 35% turned out in 2010 - yet they still broke for the Republican by similar margins.

2004 and 2010 may be poor examples. Bush was an incumbent president and Ehrlich a former governor. So I included the 2008 presidential election and two Congressional elections from 2010, each with an incumbent Democrat. Turn out by Independents in 2008 was similar to 2004 and turnout in the two Congressional districts was essentially the same as the 2010 statewide turnout. In the three elections covered Democrats outperformed Democratic turnout in 2 of the 3. In the Presidential election and in the 5th Congressional district race I estimate that Democrats carried 22% to 24% of the Independent vote. Republicans picked up between 59% and 70% of the Independent vote.

In Maryland, regardless of the election, Independent voters break heavily toward the GOP. This rather consistent support for GOP candidates suggests that Republicans actually claim a larger share of Maryland's voters than registration number suggest. Averaging the elections highlighted above (and placing a greater weight on higher turnout elections) suggests that Republicans receive about 77% of the Independent vote, Democrats about 6% and the remainder actually goes to third party candidates.

The table below shows an alternate breakdown of each party's effective partisan strength in the state if we were to reallocate Independent voters according actual election results.

Democrats gain very little and remain at 57% of the electorate, Republicans see there share of the electorate jump from 26.6% to 38.6% and true Independent voters dwindle (yes we are a lonely few).

So how do Democrats hold 75% of Congressional seats, 70% of the seats in the House of Delegates, and 75% of the seats in the state Senate?

It's called gerrymandering folks...

Gerrymandering is the process by which a political party draws district lines not to represent the interests of the people, but rather to represent the interests of the party. By drawing the 6th and 1st district such that registered Republican and Republican leaning Independent voters are packed into those districts the remaining districts contain more Democrats. Republicans in Anne Arundel, Baltimore and Harford county are sliced across multiple districts to dilute their influence and excess Democrats in Baltimore City, Prince Georges, and Montgomery county are spread across multiple districts to boost Democratic prospects.

The same process is applied to the state's legislative districts. What's up with 2C, 3A, 37A - easy, they each create Democratic districts in the midst of otherwise Republican areas (and before someone thinks to remind me that the state's legislative districts were "redrawn" by the courts, I would remind you that the changes made by the court were miniscule).

And this process is not unique to Maryland or to Democrats - one look at the map of Legislative and Congressional districts in Texas and it's easy to see why state Democrats fled the state in 2003 to try and stop the proposed map.

After my column supporting the Republican's proposed map was published I was accused of being a partisan out to boost the Republican party - this simply is not the case. I am among the 2.5% of truly Independent voters in Maryland (this was not always the case, I was once a very partisan fellow, but years of studying American politics made me realize the damage that hyperpartisanship has done to our system). I tend to be a pretty liberal person, but I really dislike ideologues and both major parties. Above all, what I care about is a process that respects voters and the true political diversity of a state. When Democrats or Republicans abuse the process to boost their numbers the voters suffer, the concept of representation suffers.

My goal is not more Democrats or more Republicans, my goal is a state where the people are truly represented, not a state where one party can artificially create a partisan advantage simply by drawing lines... Maryland has been a leader in environmental legislation and health care reform, can we now be a leader in moving toward non-partisan redistricting? What a wonderful legacy that would be for Governor O'Malley.

Thank You Governor O'Malley

As expected, Governor O'Malley has announced his intentions to sponsor same-sex marriage legislation in Maryland.

I have been very critical of O'Malley and his lack of leadership on this issue during the 2011 legislative session. I also believe that the only reason he decided to support the bill was the active role played by Gov. Cuomo in New York when the state legislature legalized same sex marriage earlier this summer. I'll add that given the incredible success of the petition drive to place the Maryland DREAM Act on the ballot in 2012 the General Assembly may be hesitant to pass another bill that would most certainly trigger another petition drive and another ballot initiative - meaning that 2011 was really the year to get behind the bill.

But.... the bill has a far greater chance of passing with O'Malley's full and vocal support and given the controversy that this is likely to cause among Catholic and African-American religious leaders this represents a brave and bold decision by a governor who rarely takes political risks.

On behalf of all of us who are straight, but not narrow (minded) I say thank you Governor O'Malley for standing up for the simple, but essential concept of equality under the law. I stand with you and will certainly do whatever I can to support your legislation.

From O'Malley's Press Release:
"As a free and diverse people of many faiths, we choose to be governed under the law by certain fundamental principles or beliefs, among them “equal protection of the law” for every individual and the “free exercise” of religion without government intervention. In the 2012 legislative session, I will sponsor legislation that protects religious freedom and equality of marital rights under the law."

Monday, July 18, 2011

Gerrymandering is Bad, Regardless of Which Party Does It!

I want to thank the Washington Post for inviting me to write a column on redistricting for their Sunday edition. It was an opportunity for me to write about an issue that I care for a great deal. As I've been reading reader comments and e-mails I decided that I should follow up a bit on the issue and address (though indirectly) some of the reader comments.

I admit to not having much patience for dyed-in-the-wool partisans. Folks who think that their party is dedicated to goodness and light and that the opposition party is evil incarnate really need to wake-up to the reality that there is nothing inherently good or evil about the Democratic or Republican Party. Yet die hard Democrats are convinced that Republicans are out to control the country through any and all means and die hard Republicans are equally distrustful of Democrats.

Newsflash folks - the Democratic and Republican Parties share the same goal - the acquisition of power and influence within government. And both parties will used whatever legal means are available to them to acquire power. In states dominated by Democrats, like Maryland, Democrats use the redistricting process to game the system and boost party interests. Likewise, in a state like Texas, Republicans do the same.

A critique of Maryland's gerrymandered districts is not an attack on the Democratic party, it is an attack on the process. I endorsed the Republican map simply because it is a good map. Had the Kiwanis Club, or MaryPIRG, or the state Democratic Party presented the same, or a better proposal, I would have endorsed that map. But in this case, it was the Maryland GOP. That in no way suggests that I absolve the Republican Party of their equally egregious gerrymandering antics in other states.

Some folks told me that so long as redistricting is a partisan process and the GOP controls the process in states like Texas then it should be OK for Democrats to manipulate the process in states where they dominate. As a father, I've heard this argument many times except it goes "yea, but he started," "did not," did too." So I have little patience for an adult version of that childish justification being applied to something as important as representation in Congress.

A hand full of states, among them California and Iowa, have rejected partisan gerrymandering in favor of a non-partisan process. This is what I would I like to see in Maryland. I want to see more states follow the lead of Iowa and California and make this a non-partisan issue.

Of all the institutions of our national government, the House of Representatives was the one body most intended to embody democratic representation. No reasonable person could look at Maryland's 2nd, 3rd, or 4th districts and conclude that they were drawn to best represent the interests of the people. As Americans we should be outraged that the parties (Democrats and Republicans) manipulate something as sacred as representation in the manner that they do.

Gerrymandering subverts representation and subjugates the interests of the people to the interests of political parties. Perhaps that wouldn't be so bad if not for the fact that America is home to two dominant parties - each dominated by partisan ideologues.

So let me summarize. I oppose gerrymandering. I don't care if it helps Democrats... I don't care if it helps Republicans... It's an abuse of process... It harms everyone... and some things, in fact most things, are far more important than party loyalty.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

First Public Hearings on Redistricting Announced

Tell the Redistricting Task Force that Maryland's gerrymandered districts must be changed! Read my previous posts on redistricting in Maryland here and here.

Jeanne D. Hitchcock, Esq., chair of the Governor's Redistricting Advisory Committee (GRAC), today announced locations for the first 3 of 12 public hearings that will help inform the committee as it drafts a recommended plan for the State's Legislative and Congressional redistricting.

The hearings and start times will be:
  • Saturday, July 23, 11 a.m., Hancock High School, School Auditorium, Hancock, Washington County
  • Saturday, July 23, 2 p.m., Hood College, Rosenstock Hall, Hodson Auditorium, Frederick
  • Monday, July 25, 7 p.m., Prince George's Community College, Rennie Forum, Largo, Prince George's County
Public hearings will start at the designated time and end following the last testimony of registered persons.

Information on future dates and locations will be posted here as soon as it is available.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

A model redistricting plan from the Maryland GOP

The following post is from a column that I wrote for the Washington Post - the full text (with nice maps) can be veiwed at the Washington Post's Opinions Page.

Maryland is home to some of the most gerrymandered congressional districts in the country. But the decennial redistricting getting underway gives Democratic Gov. Martin O’Malley and state leaders a chance to remake the partisan, unrepresentative districts created 10 years ago under Gov. Parris Glendening, another Democrat — districts that have harmed Democratic and unaffiliated voters as much as they have Republicans.

And the good news is officials don’t have to spend much time reviewing voter rolls and computer data to achieve this good-government outcome. All they have to do is adopt the plan offered by Maryland Republicans. Yes, you read that correctly.

That’s not the process that’s in the offing, of course. Instead, a task force created by O’Malley will redraw districts so that each contains roughly 721,000 people, a map which will then be sent to the General Assembly for its rubber stamp. O’Malley has promised to produce a map representative of Maryland’s diversity. Given the Democratic makeup of the task force, however, I suspect this will be a decidedly partisan affair (as it is in most states) dedicated to the electoral interests of O’Malley’s party.

It is important to consider how Maryland’s bizarre congressional districts came into existence. Before the 2001 redistricting, the state’s congressional delegation included four Democrats and four Republicans. That split was unacceptable to Glendening and state Democratic leaders, given their party’s sizable registration advantage, so they drew lines to dilute Republican counties and expand the reach of Democratic strongholds.

The goal was clear — elect more Democrats — and it was met. But there was a cost. Rather than respecting political diversity and natural community boundaries, districts were designed solely to maximize Democratic influence.

Counties were sliced and diced. The boundaries of the 1st and 2nd districts were altered to pack more Republicans into the 1st and more Democrats in the 2nd. The 8th District, mostly Montgomery County, was spread over three districts, with the more Republican areas shifted into the 6th District along with Western Maryland and much of northern Baltimore and Harford counties. To offset Republican voters elsewhere in Baltimore, Harford and Howard counties, the city of Baltimore’s residents were treated as spoils to be divided among the 2nd, 3rd and 7th districts. As a result, the unique urban interests of Democratic Baltimore City residents were diluted by the suburban demands of Baltimore, Harford and Howard.

Closer in to Washington, Prince George’s County was divided among the 4th, 5th and 8th districts. Montgomery was spread across the 4th, 6th and 8th. Again, this was done to maximize the impact of these Democratic bastions.

Anne Arundel, Baltimore and Harford counties were divided in ways that defy all reason — except one: diluting the GOP vote. Harford was cut into thirds and given to the 1st, 2nd and 6th districts. Baltimore County was spread across the 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 7th. Anne Arundel was divided among the 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 5th. The 2nd and 3rd districts look like someone spilled ink on a map of Maryland.

Rather than correct the mess, however, most observers expect the O’Malley task force to try to make the congressional delegation even more Democratic. The 6th District, currently a Republican stronghold, is the most likely target, with many of the District’s Republican voters being shifted to the 1st District which would then stretch from Somerset County to Carroll County. The process is being driven by the National Democratic Party and its desire to gain the two-dozen seats needed to reclaim control of the House of Representative; representing the interests of Maryland’s voters is of little concern.

Meanwhile, state Republicans have proposed a map with compact districts that treat the borders of counties and communities with respect. Only Baltimore County would occupy more than two districts. A badly needed Baltimore City district (a new District 7) would be created by adding a sliver of Baltimore County’s population to the city’s 631,000 residents. Harford would occupy one district. Anne Arundel would be in two districts not four. Montgomery and Prince George’s would each be included in two districts — the minimum possible given their large populations.

But the Republican map will be ignored. Fatally, it would probably produce a five-to-three party split, with the newly drawn 1st, 3rd and 6th Districts likely to elect Republicans. The 2nd District would become a new swing district, and the 4th, 5th, 7th and 8th would almost certainly stay in Democratic hands.

Yet those results would better represent the political and geographic diversity of the state. Democrats make up 56 percent of Maryland voters and Republicans 27 percent. But the Democrats’ advantage is tightly confined to the city of Baltimore and the D.C. suburbs, with the remainder of the state more competitive or leaning Republican, and unaffiliated voters (about 15 percent) are the fastest rising voting bloc in the state. Because of that, a congressional map yielding a delegation of four Democrats and three Republicans, with one swing district, would be a fair representation of the true political geography of the state. It would without question be much more accurate than a map creating a seven-to-one Democratic advantage.

The Republicans’ proposal isn’t perfect, but it is the standard by which the coming O’Malley map should be judged.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

With Eye on White House, O'Malley Shifts Tactics

The Washington Post is reporting that Governor Martin O'Malley is considering whether to sponsor legislation in the 2012 Legislative Session that would legalize same-sex marriage in Maryland. O'Malley was largely silent on the issue when it was considered, and defeated, during the 2011 session.

The defeat of same-sex marriage in Maryland was viewed as a major defeat for an issue that has recently earned the support of a majority of Americans, but remains deeply unpopular among many influential groups - including African-American religious leaders, the U.S. Catholic Conference of Bishops, and multiple conservative Christian organizations.

The movement was revitalized, however, when the New York Assembly approved a measure legalizing same-sex marriage in the Empire State. New York became only the sixth, but the largest, state to legalize same-sex marriage. That same-sex marriage was legalized in New York and not Maryland is made even more interesting given that the New York State Senate is controlled by Republicans. Maryland's State Senate is home to 35 Democrats and only 12 Republicans - Republicans lack even sufficient numbers to filibuster legislation - same sex marriage narrowly passed in the Maryland Senate in 2011. Maryland's House of delegates is home to 98 Democrats and 43 Republicans - same-sex marriage died in the House of Delegates after an intense effort by African-American religious leaders and state Catholic leaders convinced several sponsors of the legislation to withdraw their support.

Nearly every analyst agrees that the crucial player in New York was the state's governor Andrew Cuomo. Cuomo, a Democrat, is in his first term and has not shied away from wading into some of the most difficult positions facing his state.  Cuomo fought vigorously both publicly and behind the scenes to ensure passage of the bill. Upon taking office he made legalization of same-sex unions a priority.

Like Maryland (and most other states), New York is facing tremendous budget troubles - in New York, like Maryland (and most other states) a significant portion of the budget woes stem from obligations to public employee health and pension plans. Cuomo negotiated a deal with state labor leaders that should save nearly $1.6 billion over 5 years via a three year wage freeze raise, the retirement age for most state workers was raised from 62 to 65 and from 57 to 65 for teachers. Additionally, workers’ contributions to their pensions are to increase from 3 percent to 6 percent of their salaries. And Cuomo won those concessions via amicable negotiations with union leaders.

All of this success has raised Cuomo's profile. Not only are folks viewing him as a leading contender for the 2016 Democratic nomination there have been recent whispers that he may replace Joe Biden as President Obama's running mate in 2012.

For O'Malley, Cuomo's success is anything but a cause for celebration. O'Malley has been using his current position as Chair of the Democratic Governor's Association to raise his own profile. He has picked fights with prominent Republicans like Chris Christie in New Jersey and Scott Walker in Wisconsin and he frequently wades into the national debate - especially with regard to the nation's debt.

O'Malley's intentions are clear - he wants to be the Democratic nominee for president in 2016. Unfortunate to his plans, he is being upstaged by a younger, more dynamic, and far more aggressive Democratic governor - Andrew Cuomo. O'Malley's tenure as governor has been marked by a play it safe, take no chances approach to governing. One of O'Malley's first tests as governor was whether Maryland would allow slot machine gambling in the state - rather than propose legislation legalizing slots O'Malley proposed legislation calling for a voter referendum on the issue. When faced with a $1.4 billion budget shortfall during the 2011 legislative session O'Malley presented a budget with no tax increases, but said he would consider increases proposed by the assembly. O'Malley is not a risk taker - he's a caretaker. When public employees took to Annapolis streets to protest the rather modest changes he proposed to their health and pension system O'Malley joined the protest... he protested his own proposal to avoid alienating a key constituency.

I have argued on this blog that O'Malley has been an effective caretaker of the state's budget, but even there, O'Malley is more focused on balancing the books each year than he is with finding long term solutions. Such solutions would carry greater political risk and likely be tied to a grander vision for the state's future. Even when O'Malley has tried to express a vision, it's often little more than boilerplate slogans lacking in specifics. The problem for O'Malley is that voters tend not to respond to politicians that play it safe and govern with no real vision. There is little to inspire loyalty or to stir passions. Running for president requires the passionate commitment of supporters willing to give money, participate in caucuses and primaries, make phone calls, and knock on doors. Becoming governor of Maryland or Mayor of Baltimore simply requires being the candidate with a (D) after your name.

Governor O'Malley enjoys a House of Delegates that is 2 to 1 Democrat and a Senate that is 3 to 1 Democrat - yet he has struggled to have any of his modest agenda enacted. His proposal for the development of offshore wind power was rejected, his proposal for tax credits to bring investors to Maryland was dramatically scaled back. Maryland is home to one of the most powerful governors (on paper) in the nation and O'Malley won re-election in 2010 by a 14.5 point margin - yet he appears to have little influence over a General Assembly dominated by members of his own party. If he were President, he would likely face a Congress either partially or fully controlled by an opposition party.

Cuomo has worked successfully with a divided legislature and has been willing to challenge key members of his constituency. He bargained and exerted his influence on members of both parties to ensure passage of the bills that he supports. Cuomo is a risk taker.

O'Malley and his advisors have seen the future of the Democratic Party and that future looks like Andrew Cuomo - not Martin O'Malley. The O'Malley camp is now attempting to retool the Governor's image. For O'Malley the stakes are high. O'Malley must vacate the governor's mansion in January of 2015 and one assumes that he will transition immediately into full-time presidential candidate. But O'Malley will be coming off of a lame-duck term as governor and worries that his record may compare poorly to that of Cuomo who is likely to be in the midst of his second term as governor in a state with no term limits and therefor no lame-ducks.

Expect to see a more active O'Malley in the coming years - same-sex marriage will be one of many issues that he is likely to pursue more vigorously. Unfortunately for O'Malley his 2 most influential years were the years immediately following his election and subsequent re-election. If the General Assembly felt comfortable ignoring him after a 14.5 percentage point landslide, why would they start to listen to him now?

I support marriage equality, but it's quite unlikely that the Maryland General Assembly will consider, or pass, same-sex legislation in the foreseeable future - owing to the successful petition drive that has at least temporarily halted legislation enacted in 2011 that would grant in-state tuition to the children of illegal immigrants. Opponents of the measure gathered over 110,000 signatures (more than twice the number required) on a petition to have the measure placed on the ballot in 2012 and either approved or rejected by the voters - the first time in 20 years that such an effort has succeeded.

The success of that ballot initiative (regardless of the outcome in 2012) will serve as a warning to members of the Assembly as they consider same-sex marriage. A similar petition and ballot initiative would likely result in the question of same-sex marriage being put on the ballot in 2014 (though it's possible it would be on the 2012 ballot, state Republicans would likely use whatever means available to defer the issue until the 2014 election) - when Marylanders will elect a Governor, an Attorney General, and every member of the General Assembly. Members of the Assembly will not want to face election or re-election in a year that would see tremendous turn-out by conservative and religious voters determined to defeat same-sex marriage. O'Malley's support of the legislation is likely to have little impact, but had he taken the risk and thrown his support behind the measure in 2011 it may have made the difference.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Independent Voters are no Myth

Over at Larry Sabato's Crystal Ball page, senior columnist Alan Abramowitz takes on what he calls "myths" about Independent voters. Several of his points are quite correct and I will not quibble with them, but Abramowitz is far too dismissive of what it means to be an Independent. Abramowitz writes "the large majority of independents are independents in name only. Research by political scientists on the American electorate has consistently found that the large majority of self-identified independents are “closet partisans” who think and vote much like other partisans."

What do the numbers tell us about Independents? Though some scholars (Abramowitz among them) contend that there has been a marked rise in partisanship among the mass electorate in recent years and a solidification of partisan support, there is equally compelling evidence that the trek away from party allegiance that began in the 1960s continues through today.

According to data from the American National Election Study, in 1964 approximately 76 percent of the country identified as a “Partisan” (either weak or strong) in contrast only 24 percent identified as Independent or Leaning Independent (Leaners). By 1984 it was 65 percent to 35 percent and in 2008 it was 60 percent to 40 percent. Across that 42 year span the share identifying as Strong Partisans decreased from 38 percent in 1964 to 32 percent in 2008 and Weak Partisans declined from 38 percent to 28 percent. The share identifying as Leaning Independent, so-called Leaners, doubled from 15 percent to 29 percent. Though research has shown that many self identified Independents will express a partisan preference if pressed, there has been a clear trend toward an initial preference of Independent.

Through 1964 fewer than a quarter of the electorate self identified as a Pure Independent or an Independent leaning Democrats or Republicans. By 1968 that share had risen to 30 percent, and as of 2008 was at 39 percent of the electorate. There is no indication of decline in the Independent preference among voters. Though they may lean Democrat or Republican Americans are clearly less willing to express allegiance to one of the two major parties than they were in the 1950s and 1960s.

Some scholars use the same data to make the opposite argument concluding “if voters are becoming more partisan, we would expect declines in pure independents to result in increases in independent partisans. This is evident for both Democrats and Republicans.” That conclusion is debatable. If indeed we are seeing an increase in partisanship then perhaps we would see a decline in pure independents, but it is also likely that we would see a rise in partisans of all stripes – Strong, Weak and Independent. For Democrats, this has not happened and the rise in Independent Democrats appears not to have come from declines in pure Independents, but rather a decline in Weak Democrats – this does not suggest growing partisanship, but rather weakening partisanship.

The chart above tracks Democratic Party identification since 1952 and shows a clear decline in Democratic Party affiliation. From 1952 through 1968 Democratic Party affiliation averaged 54.9 percent of the electorate, from 1970 through 1980 the average was 52.3 percent and since 1982 the average is 49.8 percent. If one were to narrow the window to the 1990-2008 period the average is 49.7 percent. Though the share of Strong Democrats has rebounded from its lows in the 1970s it remains well below its average from 1952 through 1968. There also has been a marked decline in the share of Weak Democrats since the 1960s and it appears that the increase in Independent Democrats has been driven by the decline in Weak Democrats – not by a decline in Pure Independents. In short, fewer people are identifying as Democrats than did so prior to 1968 and those who do identify as Democrats are increasingly identifying as Independent Democrats.

The ANES data does show an increase in Republican partisanship, but this in entirely consistent with the collapse of the New Deal era and with it the dominance of the Democratic Party.  Even among Republicans, however, there has been considerable growth among Independent partisans and evidence of a rebound among Strong Republicans following the lows of the 1970s – likely an artifact of the Nixon Administration and Watergate. The Republican share of the electorate averaged 33.9 percent from 1952 through 1968, then fell to 32.1 percent during the 1970s, and climbed to 38.2 percent in the decades since 1980. But the share of Strong Republicans from 1982 through 2008 was 12.2 percent, essentially the same as the average of 12.4 percent prior to 1968 – the “rise” in Strong Republicans is again likely an artifact of a collapse in Republican Party identification during the 1970s.

That said, the true growth area in partisan politics has been among the group of Americans Identifying as Independent, either Pure, or Leaning Democrat or Republican. Though there are fewer Pure Independents as a share of the electorate than during the decade immediately following the collapse of the New Deal Era in the late 1960s and during the height of the Watergate era there are more Pure Independents, Independent Democrats, and Independent Republicans today than during any measured era dating to the 1950s.
So when Gallup release a graph, like the one below, Democrats and Republicans should be concerned. Though Democratic Party affiliation matched a 20 year peak of 36 percent in 2008 it has since fallen to its lowest levels (according to Gallup) in 22 years. The Gallup data clearly shows that neither party can claim the allegiance of a majority of the electorate and since 1990 has rarely captured a plurality. At best, the data on party affiliation, whether from ANES or Gallup, suggest that there has been some solidification of the Strong Partisan base of each party, though collectively these Strong Partisans account for less than one-third of the electorate.

Are Independents independent in name only? No, not really. In The Myth of the Independent Voter, Keith et al., (1992) argued there has been little change in partisan attachment since the 1960s. Rather, the authors contend people identifying as Independents often reveal a preference for one of the two major parties when pressed to make a choice. These Leaners behave much the same as their more partisan counterparts with regard to issue positions and vote choice - this is the Abramowitx argument. In a 2009 article in Electoral Studies, political scientist John Petrocick argued, “Leaners are partisans. Characterizing them as independents underestimates the partisanship of Americans…”

But studies of partisanship often consider the views of Leaners at a given point in time or their votes in a specific election or examine the stability of partisan identification by merging all partisans – Strong, Weak, or Leaning – together and measure macro-level party identification. These measure do not take into consideration the temporal nature of partisan attachment and the propensity to change party affiliation over time. Additionally, in an era of candidate-centered politics it is possible that Idependents express a preference for the party of the candidate that they have chosen to support. So it would not be surprising that an Independent that leans Democratic votes the same as a Strong Partisan Democrat - in a specific election. But the Strong Partisan Democrat voted Democratic because of partisanship, the Independent, however, voted Democrat and expressed a Democratic preference because of the candidate.

But the lerger question really pertains to the size and stability of a governing coalition over time. For a President or a political party to succeed they must have a stable electoral coalition. If Independent voters are the fastest growing segment of the electorate and if they are truly independent, then Democrats and Republicans need to worry. But if folks like Alan Abramowitz are correct, then the parties can ignore the threat of the Independent voter.

A review of ANES data from a panel survey that included 2000, 2002, and 2004 however, shows that Independent Democrats and Independent Republicans (roughly a third of each party) are much less attached to their party than either Weak or Strong partisans over time.

Of those respondents who self-identified as an Independent Democrat in 2000, 31.4 percent no longer identified with the Democratic Party in 2002, nearly as many, 29.8 percent, no longer identified with the party in 2004. For Republican Leaners the results were similar, 27.2 percent no longer identified with the Republican Party in 2002, 26.1 percent in 2004.

Strong as well as Weak partisans left their respective parties at far smaller rates over time. Equally worthy of not, Independent Democrats and Republicans who left their 2000 party were just as likely to identify with the opposition party in 2002 and 2004 as they were to simply identify as pure Independents.

A review of 2004 partisan identification shows that fully one-third of Independent Democrats and Independent Republicans in 2004 identified with another party or no party in 2000. Simply stated, partisan identification is much less stable among Independent partisans and Eric McGhee and Daniel Krimm (in a 2009 issue of Polity) found that Independent partisans are more moderate than Strong partisans.

Abramowitz and others are correct - Independent Partisans do vote much like their Strong Partisan counterparts in a given election, but the ANES panel data suggests that a significant share of Independent Partisans (between a quarter and a third) may well have a different partisan stripe by the next election cycle. Far from the “unmoved mover” described in The American Voter (Campbell et al., 1960), partisanship among Independent Partisans moves and they are the fasted growing segment of the electorate.

Fully 11% of the electorate are Pure Independents, another 30% are Independent Partisans (about 18% Democrats and 12% Republicans) and between one-quarter and one-third of these Independent Partisans are far less attached to party from election to election. At the very least, this suggests a 20% voting bloc that is quite volatile - in a country where our presidential elections have been decided by margins of 7 percentage points or less since 2000 and the difference between the national two party vote share in House elections has averaged about 5 percentage points since 1990.

Independent voters are no myth, they matter, and (when you include among them Independent Partisans) they absolutely sway elections. Indeed, the present and highly competitive political era in which we are living is a direct result of a decrease in partisan attachment coupled with an increasing level of partisanship among each party's relatively equal (and small) in size base.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

I'm Back...

After a much needed vacation, and time spent dedicated to my forthcoming book "America's Dysfunctional Political System" I am happy to announce that I will be resuming regular posts to the FreeStater Blog.

Stay tuned...

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.