ANNAPOLIS — Gov. Martin O’Malley’s advisory committee on legislative redistricting voted 4-1 Monday to approve its proposed new map for Maryland’s eight congressional districts, a measure that likely makes the state’s western district more competitive for Democrats.
The biggest changes made by the Governor’s Redistricting Advisory Committee are in the 6th congressional district, a seat now held by Republican Rep. Roscoe Bartlett, who is serving his 10th term. Maryland has six Democrats and two Republicans in Congress.
Now, the district contains only about 20,000 Montgomery County residents. Under the recommended change, Democratic-leaning Montgomery County will have about 350,000 people in the district, or about half of the district’s population.
The district would still contain Washington, Allegany and Garrett counties in western Maryland, but it would lose portions of Carroll, Baltimore and Harford counties.
“It’s a dominated district by Montgomery County,” said Jeanne Hitchcock, O’Malley’s secretary of appointments who chaired the panel.
There will now be a seven-day public comment period on the proposed map. O’Malley, a Democrat, will be able to make changes to the proposal. Lawmakers will take up the map in a special session of the General Assembly this month.
House Speaker Michael Busch, an Anne Arundel County Democrat who was on the panel, said the new Western Maryland district reflect changing demographics.
“I think the numbers will show that it makes it pretty competitive, but I think the fact of the matter, that’s reflective of the population growth in that area and the change that you see in voting behavior,” Busch said.
James King, a panel member and former Republican delegate, was the lone vote against the plan, Hitchcock said.
Del. Curt Anderson, D-Baltimore, who sat in on a briefing by Hitchcock on Monday night in Annapolis, said the change in the Western Maryland district is clearly the most noticeable on the new map.
“It reminded me of a weather woman standing in front of the map saying, ‘Here comes a cold front,’ and in this case the cold front is going to be hitting Roscoe Bartlett pretty hard,” Anderson said.
House Minority Leader Anthony O’Donnell, R-Calvert, said he got a call about the recommended plan late Monday night. O’Donnell said the plan looks like it targets Bartlett.
“On first blush, this plan looks like raw, brute political force,” he said.
Maryland’s other Republican in Congress, Rep. Andrew Harris, would add more conservative parts of the state from Bartlett’s district to his Eastern Shore district. Harris’ district would gain part of northern Carroll and Baltimore counties and much of Harford County, as well as Cecil County. It would still include all of the Eastern Shore, but it would no longer cross the Chesapeake Bay into parts of Anne Arundel County.
Changes to the other six districts held by Democrats are not as noticeable, although Hitchcock said an effort was made to change the currently convoluted congressional map into a simpler one.
Hitchcock said about 70 percent of Maryland residents will stay in their current congressional districts, and she underscored that the plan reflects population changes over the past decade.
The panel held 12 regional hearings across the state to hear from the public.