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Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Questioning Maryland Democrats and Their New Found Religion on Redistricting Reform

In response to Governor Hogan's call for redistricting reform, Democratic members of Maryland's congressional delegation have argued instead for national reform. Representatives Hoyer and Van Hollen have each argued that Democrats in Maryland should not surrender the redistricting power so long as Republicans hold onto the power in other states. So only bilateral disarmament is acceptable. 
I have advocated national redistricting reform for years. Nothing would please me more or be better for our democracy than national reform. But forgive me for not placing much stock in Md Democrats' new found redistricting faith. Rather I think they are calling for national reform in an effort to provide cover for state Democrats who don't want to give up the power pick and choose their voters. Why am I so dismissive? Let's just say our Democratic delegation sang a different tune when their party controlled Congress AND the White House a few years ago and had the power to enact reform.
In 2008 and 2009, a bipartisan group of Representatives sponsored legislation to enact nation-wide, non-partisan redistricting reform and called on then Speaker Nancy Pelosi to hold hearings - but it went nowhere. Democrat Zoe Lofgren sponsored the Redistricting Reform Act, but it died as well - and no one in the MD delegation co-sponsored it.
2008 offered a perfect storm for reform - under divided government and 2 years prior to a new Census neither party knew who would be in control of drawing new district lines. That uncertainty would have made reform achievable.
If you think that President Bush would have vetoed the measure, the legislation was reintroduced in 2009. At that time Democrats controlled the whole process - the House, the White House, and held a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate. President Obama was on record as opposing gerrymandering having once commented "too often, our representatives are selecting their voters, as opposed to the voters selecting the representatives. That is a situation that I think the American people should not accept."
But these efforts at bilateral disarmament went nowhere. In fact, as sponsors of the bill were advocating nationwide, bilateral disarmament, Nancy Pelosi joined an effort opposing non-partisan redistricting reform in her home state of California.
None of the members of the MD delegation co-sponsored or expressed any support for Lofgren's measure. None.* And all of MD's current Democratic incumbents, except for John Delaney, were in Congress at the time. In fact, Steny Hoyer was Majority Leader at the time. Van Hollen was chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, the fifth-ranking position among House Democrats. Support from either man would've guaranteed passage of the bill - but both were silent. Both knew all too well that it was the gerrymandering efforts of Parris Glendening in 2001 that transformed Maryland's 4 to 4 congressional delegation into a 6 to 2 delegation. Gerrymandering was specifically responsible for Van Hollen's defeat of liberal Republican Connie Morella in 2002. 
Why else did Democrats refuse to reform? Because 2006 and 2008 were great years for Democrats. The party regained control of the House and Senate in 2006 and won the White House in 2008. In both elections, the party made gains in state legislatures and governorships.  In 2009 talk was of a Democratic realignment and a new coalition of voters that would continue to deliver for Democrats. In short, the party gambled on winning big in 2010 and being in control of redistricting in states across the nation. They saw an opportunity to undo Republican gains made after the 2000 Census and secure a Democratic House majority for a decade.
Of course, they lost big on that gamble. In 2010, Republicans made the largest gains in state legislatures by a single party in a century. They used that new power to do what Democrats had planned to do - they gerrymandering the hell out the states they controlled (with especially egregious examples in PA, NC, and TX.  Democrats did the same in the few states they controlled (with their own equally egregious examples in IL and MD).
So when you hear a Democratic member of Congress calling for national reform or condemning Republican gerrymandering, do a quick search to see if he or she supported reform in 2009 when their party faced no obstacles to reform. If they were in Congress at the time, and the answer is "No", then feel free to cast a cynical eye upon them. They had the chance to reform the process, but their commitment to reform lost out to their avarice.
Now let me get to the Republicans (of course there's only one Republican in MD's delegation, but his party controls Congress). There is redistricting reform legislation in Congress right now (and 3 of MD's 6 congressional Democrats are co-sponsors). Republicans control the House and Senate and there remains every reason to believe that President Obama would sign a reform bill. The ball is their court now. If they refuse to reform, they easily could find themselves on the losing end of redistricting after the 2020 Census.
It's a perfect time for reform as neither party can predict who will be in charge after 2020. So call on Speaker Boehner, on Steny Hoyer, on Elijah Cummings, on Dutch Ruppersberger, on John Delaney and on Andy Harris to lend their support to the Redistricting Reform Act of 2015. Let's end this nonsense once and for all.

* Though this article references sponsorship of Zoe Lofgren's Redistricting Reform Act, which has been reintroduced in every Congress for the last decade, John Sarbanes was a co-sponsor of John Tanner's Fairness and Independence in Redistricting Act of 2007. But did not co-sponsor the bill when it was reintroduced in subsequent Congresses. Chris Van Hollen signed on as a co-sponsor of the Fairness and Independence in Redistricting Act of 2009, signing on a year after it was introduced, but did not co-sponsor the bill when it was reintroduced in the following Congress.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Maryland Needs Redistricting Reform Now

During his State of the State address, MD Governor Larry Hogan called for redistricting reform in Maryland. As he condemned the process of partisan Gerrymandering (used by both parties to create artificial party strength by disenfranchising members of the minority party) most Democrats in the General Assembly sat on their hands and refused to embrace his call. Their reluctance is easy to understand once one looks at Maryland's state legislative and congressional district maps (see below).

Democrats outnumber Republicans in Maryland by roughly 2 to 1, but that voter registration advantage overstates the actual electoral strength of Democrats. As I have detailed in prior posts, the effective partisan breakdown in Maryland is closer to 1.5 to 1. It's an advantage sufficient to explain Democrats' dominance in statewide elections, but insufficient to explain their 3 to 1 domination in the General Assembly and their 7 to 1 advantage in the state's Congressional delegation. In order to maintain those tremendous advantages, Democrats have rigged the game. They have manipulated the states legislative and Congressional districts so as to effectively disenfranchise non-Democratic voters.

Maryland's state legislative districts look as though they were created by an over-caffeinated 4 year old with a paint gun. But the haphazard appearance obscures what is actually a carefully crafted map. Jagged and sprawling districts have been created solely to serve a single purpose - maximize the number of Democratic seats. Each of Maryland's legislative districts elect 3 members to the House of Delegates. The districts can either elect all of the members at large or a district can be subdivided into 3 single member or into a 1 single member and 2 two member districts. As originally intended, single member districts were to be reserved for geographically large rural districts. Democrats have used the district structures to carve out Democratic districts in otherwise Republican regions - this is clearly evident in Districts 2, 3, 30 and 37. Democrats have leveraged their effective map making into a nearly 3 to 1 majority in the General Assembly.



But Maryland's legislative districts cannot hold a candle to the state's Congressional districts when it comes to political manipulation. During much of the 1990s, Maryland had a 4-to-4 congressional delegation. But during the 2001/2002 redistricting process then Governor Parris Glendening and state Democrats dedicated themselves to correcting that "flaw." The new map resulted in a 6-to-2 Congressional delegation and elevated Maryland to the proud status as one of the most gerrymandered states in the nation. 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]." 

In 2011, Governor O'Malley had a chance to correct the abuse of process committed in the name of petty partisanship in 2002, but instead he doubled-down and gerrymandered Maryland so drastically that the state now stands side-by-side with the Rorschach test that is the gerrymandered mess created by the GOP in Texas. The O'Malley map created a 7-to-1 Congressional delegation in Maryland. According to data from the 2010 Census, only 174,000 Marylanders actually needed to be placed into new districts in order to create districts with equal populations. The O'Malley plan placed over 1.5 million Marylanders - nearly a third of the state's residents - into new districts.


So brazen were the efforts to gerrymander the map that few bothered to disguise their motives. Maryland's 3rd District is considered to be one of the most gerrymandered districts in the nation. Why does it look like "broken-winged pterodactyl, lying prostrate” across Central Maryland? According to Senate President and map co-author Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert) the answer is simple, the map was gerrymandered to meet the needs to the 3rd District's Democratic representative. "Congressman Sarbanes lived in Baltimore County, but wanted to continue to represent the capital city Annapolis." Why do so many districts claim a part of the Baltimore region? Again, according to Miller, because so many of the state's incumbent Democrats live in the Baltimore region. But such accommodations were not afforded to the state's Republican incumbents. Republican Roscoe Bartlett saw his once conservative sixth district fundamentally altered in a successful effort to create a new Democratic district.


Miller attempted to defend the map with a rather peculiar argument. He stated, "Maryland is a small state ... and it doesn’t have many rural, conservative areas that would vote for Republicans that could comprise a district of 700,000 people." This is of course wrong. The reason the map is so gerrymandered is because Maryland is full of regions that would and do vote Republican and these regions surround four counties and Baltimore City that represent the bulk of the Democratic vote. If Democrats were to produce a map containing compact districts that respected existing county lines then there would be 4 or 5 Democratic districts packed along the I-95 corridor and Republicans would carry the rest of the state.

Miller's response to Larry Hogan's call for redistricting reform - "It's not going to happen... this is an issue that needs to be settled nationally." Miller cited Republican gerrymandering in other states and a reason to not reform the process in Maryland. Maryland Democratic Party executive director Pat Murray criticized Hogan's proposal as "dabbling in national politics instead of focusing on issues that impact middle-class families."  Both are just sorry statements. There is perhaps no issue of greater import to state and local politics than the issue of gerrymandering. And there is perhaps no issue more important to middle and working class families than that of fair representation. At it's heart gerrymandering represents the concerted effort by partisans to undermine the fundamental right democratic representation. Gerrymandering creates a system in which those in office choose their voters instead of a system where voters choose those in office. Miller understands this all to well as he took advantage of his position on the redistricting committee to redraw his own district in an effort to boost his electoral fortunes. 

Of course it would be preferable to have national redistricting reform, but those who represent the people of Maryland have first and foremost an obligation to the people of Maryland. As such, any effort to avoid reform of Maryland's redistricting process by calling for national reform is simply an excuse to put the interests of the people of Maryland secondary to the interests of the national party. Maryland needs redistricting reform now.