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Nonpartisan redistricting proposal delivered to Hogan

The redistricting proposals from the state’s nine-member Citizens Redistricting Commission delivered to Gov. Larry Hogan Friday are the first public maps and a look into how the second-term Republican executive would like to alter the state’s entrenched redistricting process. (The Daily Record / Bryan P. Sears)

ANNAPOLIS — A nonpartisan proposal to redraw Maryland’s congressional and legislative districts will be forwarded to lawmakers.

The proposals, delivered to Gov. Larry Hogan Friday, are the first public maps and a look into how the second-term Republican executive would like to alter the state’s entrenched redistricting process.

The state’s nine-member Citizens Redistricting Commission delivered proposed congressional, House and Senate maps to Hogan in a ceremony in the State House Rotunda, near the legislature’s chambers.

“Our maps offer limited splits of counties and municipalities compared with some other maps you may have seen,” said Walter Olsen, one of three co-chairs of the commission. “They offer a highly understandable layout of congressional districts so that people can understand and explain what district they live in.”

The maps presented by the commission received a grade of A for partisan fairness from the Princeton Gerrymandering project. That same group gave the proposal C grades for both competitiveness and compact districts that limit county splits.

The group has not yet graded the revised House and Senate maps. Hogan, who appointed the panel, said he would introduce the maps in legislation.

Friday, the legislature petitioned themselves into special session on Dec. 6. It is the first time in almost 75 years that the General Assembly has called itself into special session.

The legislative petition requires Hogan to sign an executive order authorizing the session. The governor signed that order within hours of receiving notice.

“We take our Constitutional responsibility for redistricting seriously,” said House Speaker Adrienne Jones, in a statement. “With the future of democracy in question, we have no greater responsibility than to ensure that voters choose their own representatives and that those representatives look like the voters they serve.”

Hogan appointed the chairs of the independent commission in an effort to eliminate gerrymandered maps that favor one party or incumbent over another. Those chairs picked the remaining members, equal numbers of Democrats, Independents and Republicans.

“This is what an overwhelming majority of Marylanders, regardless of party, support,” Hogan said.

“Every party is guilty of (gerrymandering),” he said. “Republicans do it when they have the power. Democrats do it. It’s still wrong. It still needs to change.”

A panel appointed by the legislature continues its series of public hearings this month. So far, no proposed maps have been made public.

The independent commission’s eight congressional districts are a departure from the current maps.

Baltimore County, which currently has four districts, would move to two. The northern portion remains in the 1st District, which stretches to the Eastern Shore.

The balance of the county would comprise the 2nd District. That district currently stretches from Aberdeen in Harford County to Ft. Meade in Anne Arundel County.

Montgomery County, the state’s most populous jurisdiction, would remain split into three districts.

All of Baltimore city and a part of northern Anne Arundel County would fall into a new 7th District.

Prince George’s, Charles and St. Mary’s counties would move into the new 4th District.

The commission’s Senate and House districts are very different. The commission altered House seats. The majority of House districts are now single-member sub-districts. Currently, most delegates run at-large within the larger Senate district.

Olsen said state Senate districts vary in population by no more than plus or minus 2%, 3% for delegate districts. Current variations can be as high as plus or minus 5%.

The General Assembly typically draws the congressional maps. The governor has traditionally introduced a map. In all of those instances, the governor was a Democrat with a legislature controlled by his own party.

Hogan is the first Republican governor in Maryland to preside over redistricting.

Maryland has frequently been held up as a poster child for the excesses of redrawing maps for political advantage. In the space of two redistricting cycles, Maryland’s maps have been contorted into fanciful shapes that changed a 4-to-4 split of Congressional seats into a 7-to-1 advantage for Democrats.

The 3rd Congressional District has been compared to blood spatter at a crime scene or an injured pterodactyl.

For seven years, Hogan has proposed legislation that would recast Maryland’s decennial redistricting system. The plan called for the creation of an independent panel and eliminating the roles of the executive and legislative branches.

Each year that legislation died. Legislative Democrats say they would consider changes to congressional redistricting if it were part of a regional compact or overarching national revamping.

Lawmakers will vote on redrawing the districts for 47 senators and 141 delegates next year.

Hogan is required to submit a proposal on Jan. 12. The legislature can then consider their own plans. If the General Assembly does not act within 45 days, the governor’s plan automatically becomes law.

Hogan said he hoped to “convince (the legislature) to do the right thing” but acknowledged his limited power and Democratic supermajorities in the House and Senate.

“If we thought they were unfair, I would veto them,” he said. “We would try to sustain the veto and if they overrode the veto, they’d probably be sued.”