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House rejects effort to use independent commission’s redistricting proposal

In this Feb. 28, 2019 photo, Del. C.T. Wilson stands outside the Maryland House of Delegates in Annapolis. Wilson said the proposed congressional district maps proposed by the legislative committee followed an accepted process. “We have a process,” said Wilson. “You may not like it. You may not feel that it’s good but that’s not factual.” (AP File Photo/Brian Witte)

ANNAPOLIS — An effort to resurrect an independent commission’s proposal to redraw Maryland’s eight congressional districts failed in the House of Delegates Tuesday.

The largely party-line vote came after more than an hour of debate. Republicans unsuccessfully implored their Democratic colleagues for new districts that would be compact, contiguous and competitive.

“There’s definitely more Democrats in this state but it’s not seven to one,” said Del. Matthew Morgan, R-St. Mary’s.

Maryland’s eight congressional districts were split evenly between Democrats and Republicans prior to the 2002 realignment. That year, Democratic Gov. Parris Glendening’s maps reduced that to a six-two split favoring his party.

Democratic Gov. Martin O’Malley extended that advantage to seven-one a decade later.

The 3rd Congressional map drawn by O’Malley has been roundly criticized by courts as a blood-spattered crime scene or an injured pterodactyl.

“I don’t understand why we have some of the crazy maps we have,” said Del. Jason Buckel, R-Allegany and the House Republican leader.

Republicans focused their efforts on gutting and replacing districts drawn by the Legislative Redistricting Advisory Commission. Republicans said those districts are less compact. In that bill, the 1st Congressional District, represented by Republican Andy Harris, extends over the Chesapeake Bay and into Anne Arundel County, thus making the only GOP congressional seat more competitive for Democrats. The new 3rd District extends from Montgomery County east to the Susquehanna River.

“You don’t have to go from Montgomery County to the Susquehanna to get 771,000 people,” said Buckel, describing the population size of a congressional district.

Buckel’s amendment proposed to replace the legislative proposal with one drawn by the independent Maryland Citizens Redistricting Commission.

Republican Gov. Larry Hogan, who has called for an independent redistricting process for seven years, appointed the panel lead by one Democrat, one independent and one Republican.

The plan proposed eight compact districts that could potentially increase Republican representation by one seat. Creators of the map said they focused on keeping jurisdictions with a population that could support a congressional district, such as Baltimore City, were not split.

County lines and other features also factored into how districts were drawn.

The proposal offered by that commission was not voted on by a House committee Monday afternoon.

Del. C.T. Wilson, D-Charles, said the legislative proposal followed an accepted process that allows for the consideration of communities of interest, ensuring the cores of each district change very little, and protecting the voting rights of minorities.

“We have a process,” said Wilson. “You may not like it. You may not feel that it’s good but that’s not factual.”

Wilson added that Maryland’s shape also impacts how districts can be drawn.

“It’s a weirdly shaped state so you’re not going to have straight and direct lines,” said Wilson.

Democrats ultimately rejected Buckel’s amendment 93-43. A similar amendment is expected in the Senate when that chamber takes up the bills later this week.

Tuesday’s vote sets up the House for a final vote as soon as Tuesday night.

Such a vote would keep on track a plan to deliver a final bill to Hogan by the end of the day Thursday.

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