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Md. Democrats’ redistricting plan now in Hogan’s hands

ANNAPOLIS — A legislative plan redrawing the state’s eight congressional districts now heads to Gov. Larry Hogan.

The bill, a plan proposed by a commission appointed by the Democratic Party-controlled General Assembly, is opposed by Hogan as well as Republican legislators.

The measure was approved by a 32-15 party line vote. Hogan can sign, veto, or allow the bill to pass into law without his signature.

In a state where Democrats outnumber Republicans 2-1, Democrats currently hold a 7-1 advantage over the GOP in the state’s U.S. House delegation.

The vote late Wednesday afternoon followed more than a hour of debate in the Senate. Republicans in that chamber, as in the House, 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 can put lipstick on a pig but it’s still a pig,” said Sen. Bryan Simonaire, R-Anne Arundel and leader of the Senate Republicans.

They and Hogan favor a map drawn by the Maryland Citizens Redistricting Commission, an independent panel led by one Democrat, one Independent and one Republican who were appointed by the governor.

That map featured smaller, more compact districts that limited the number of congressional districts in any of the state’s 24 political subdivisions.

The fate of the two proposals was never in doubt. The legislative plan rocketed through the House and Senate in three days. The proposal offered by the Maryland Citizens Redistricting Commission never even received a vote in committee, drawing condemnation from good government groups who had urged state lawmakers to abandon what they called Maryland’s gerrymandering tendencies.

Sen. Mary Beth Carozza, an Eastern Shore Republican, described the map favored by Democrats as one “where you see a dominance that will really affect the representation of the Eastern Shore.” She said lawmakers were moving ahead ”with a partisan map” and urged them to support the governor’s proposal.

Sen. Ron Young, D-Frederick, said he and other Democrats would support nonpartisan redistricting as part of a national solution passed at the federal level.

“But we don’t have that, and we’re not going to have that,” said Young. “I look forward to the day when everyone joins us and we have national redistricting and we won’t have these problems anymore.”

Fair Maps Maryland, a group that favored the independent commission’s proposed map, vowed legal action seconds after the map was approved.

“Make no mistake — this level of gerrymandering is voter suppression. As a consequence of the legislature’s actions, we have been forced to obtain legal counsel and are currently exploring suits on both the state and federal levels that will prosecute the obvious Voting Rights Act and many other illegal partisan gerrymandering violations,” said Doug Mayer, a spokesman for the organization and a former Hogan aide.

“If President Biden’s Department of Justice can sue Texas over accusations of denying voting rights to minorities, then the people of Maryland deserve to have their case heard in court as well. The legislature may have temporarily achieved their partisan goal today, but we can assure them that the courts will have the final say on this matter. We’ve not yet begun to fight.”

Politicians across the U.S. this year have been gerrymandering — drawing districts that either pack voters of the opposing party into a few districts or split them among multiple ones to dilute their influence. Republicans have done so in such states as Georgia and Texas and Democrats have done it in Illinois and Oregon.

Republicans dominated redistricting last decade, helping them build a greater political advantage in more states than either party had in the past 50 years.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.