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How might redistricting battle play out in Maryland?

Bryan P. Sears//August 13, 2021

How might redistricting battle play out in Maryland?

By Bryan P. Sears

//August 13, 2021

The Thursday release of preliminary 2020 census data provides a clearer picture of Maryland’s population. Those numbers will serve as the foundation for new congressional and state legislative districts to be drawn in the coming months.

Overall, Maryland’s population grew since 2010 by about 7% to nearly 6.8 million people. The latest counts will drive changes to the state’s 47 legislative and eight congressional districts. The efforts to redraw those maps, while parallel, will be slightly different.

States will receive a final redistricting “tool kit” from the Census bureau by Sept. 30. Already the governor and lawmakers have started the process that will result in new congressional districts.

Larry Hogan is the first Republican governor since Theodore McKeldin to hold office during reapportionment. It’s a scenario his party has dreamed of for decades.

The reality is that the second-term executive has a more limited role than it may appear when it comes to both congressional and legislative redistricting.

Hogan, who has long called for an independent panel to redraw the districts, appointed his own panel after lawmakers repeatedly rejected his bills to reform the practice.

Legally, the state constitution does not require the governor to propose a congressional map. Those efforts are largely left to the General Assembly.

New maps could come as soon as December in a possible special session.

A panel appointed by Hogan is already at work with meetings around the state.

In just two censuses, Maryland Republicans have seen Democrats pass maps whittling an even split of the state’s eight congressional districts to the current seven-to-one split favoring Democrats.

The current maps passed during the tenure of Democratic Gov. Martin O’Malley produced districts compared to blood-spattered crime scenes and a maimed pterodactyl.

Hogan would almost certainly like to change the partisan split of districts while burnishing his national brand as a center-of-the-road Republican.

Senate President Bill Ferguson and House Speaker Adrienne Jones have also appointed a panel to hold public hearings this fall and propose new congressional districts.

Some have described the panels appointed by the two branches as dueling or competing, but this is an overstatement. Because of the role of the General Assembly laid out by the state constitution, the legislature has the upper hand. It’s expected the Democrat-majority legislature will lean on proposals from its own panel.

Should that plan, however, produce districts that continue some of the egregious boundary practices currently in place, Hogan may have an opportunity to apply pressure.

This would be especially true if Hogan’s independent panel proposes districts that look less contrived on a map.

Some believe that growing public awareness and anger over gerrymandering has made the practice ripe for change.

Since his election in 2014, Hogan has proven himself adept at using an oversized social media megaphone to target lawmakers and sell the sizzle if not always an actual steak. He also has a federal political action committee that could fund some efforts to sway public opinion.

Legislative Redistricting 

The census brings changes to the state’s 47 legislative districts represented by 188 lawmakers.

The governor must propose a plan to the General Assembly by the opening day of the 2022 session. After that, the Democrat-controlled legislature is free to ignore it.

They likely will, but they must pass their own plan by the 45th day of session — Feb. 26 — or Hogan’s plan becomes law. It’s expected the legislature will pass new districts before Feb. 22, the deadline to file for the 2022 election.

Any plan will have to follow Maryland’s constitution. Districts must be compact, contiguous, of similar size – though the swing can be as much as 10% — and be conscious of political and natural boundaries.

The panel appointed by Ferguson and Jones will hold public hearings this fall and propose some options. Some of these options will likely pit Democrat and Republican incumbents against other incumbents.

The plan will also have to take into account changes in population in some rural areas such as Western Maryland and more urban areas including Montgomery County. Some districts shared between two counties such as the 12th in Howard and Baltimore counties, the 7th in Baltimore and Harford counties, and the 44th district shared by western Baltimore County and Baltimore City could move into one jurisdiction.

Representation for Baltimore will remain a question. The city has seen population drops over the past three census counts. Its needs are great, but critics have long complained Baltimore has more representation than its population calls for if the districts were to be completely within the city boundaries.

In more recent years, some Democratic governors have had the ability to use redistricting to leverage votes.

Stories of former governors dragging lawmakers into the executive office for chats while maps of favorable and not-so-favorable districts were prominently displayed are legend in Annapolis.

In truth, a lot of that power resided in transactional relationships between governors and the presiding officers. If targeted lawmakers were out of favor with the speaker or Senate president, so much the better.

Such was the case when former Gov. Paris Glendening drew maps that would have hurt Sens. Norman Stone and Clarence Mitchell IV. Stone, a longtime Baltimore County Democrat, angered the governor over votes against bill prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation. The issue was personal for Glendening, whose brother is gay.

Mitchell was at odds with the governor over support of a Republican judicial candidate in Baltimore County over a Democrat appointed by Glendening.

The pair also lacked the protection of Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. Glendening got a map that hurt both. It was later tossed out by the Court of Appeals, which redrew the state districts. Stone returned to the Senate, but Mitchell was out.

Hogan’s panel could propose a map that shuns the more common district where one senator and three delegates run at large. Instead, some speculate the districts could contain three sub-districts. Each one would elect its own delegate while senators would run in the larger district.

Such a map not only could increase Republican representation in the House but add seats for minorities including Blacks, Latinos and Koreans.

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