Maryland’s two most recent governors agree on one of the most divisive issues in the state – gerrymandering.
Gov. Larry Hogan had faint praise for his predecessor, former Gov. Martin O’Malley, after getting wind of remarks O’Malley made at a speech at Boston College.
In his speech, which O’Malley published online in January, O’Malley called for a nonpartisan commission to draw congressional districts, a reform that Republicans in Maryland are in support of.
“America needs non-partisan redistricting commissions not only for drawing Congressional districts every ten years, but for state legislative districts as well,” O’Malley said. “This simple reform, already being adopted in some states, must become the new norm of American democracy.”
O’Malley has been criticized in the past for approving gerrymandered congressional districts, or districts drawn to make election and re-election easier for one political party over another.
In his speech, O’Malley admitted that Maryland’s congressional districts, which are redrawn every 10 years after the census, was drawn for the benefits of Maryland Democrats in Congress.
“As a governor, I held that redistricting pen in my own Democratic hand,” O’Malley said. “I was convinced that we should use our political power to pass a map that was more favorable for the election of Democratic candidates.”
The comments have drawn some praise from one of O’Malley harshest critics, his successor, Hogan.
“Regarding former Governor O'Malley's comments, it's nice that he has finally seen the light, but it's too little, too late after he's already disenfranchised huge numbers of Maryland voters,” said Amelia Chase, a spokesperson for Hogan.
Hogan has been a frequent critic of Maryland’s congressional districts, which were drawn to divide Republicans, a minority in the state, into separate districts so they could not form a large voting bloc in one.
In 2011, Maryland’s 6th Congressional District was redrawn to include more of heavily Democratic Montgomery County and less of Republican-heavy Frederick County. In 2012, the 6th District’s 10-term congressman, Republican Roscoe Bartlett, lost to Democratic challenger and current Rep. John Delaney (D-6) after the district was redrawn to favor Democrats.
Hogan has proposed what O’Malley called for in his Boston College speech, a nonpartisan committee to redraw the Maryland congressional map, but the bill is opposed by most Democrats, who control both houses in the General Assembly.
In his speech, O’Malley said gerrymandering fuels partisan divides, but Democrats should not “unilaterally disarm,” a phrase that has been echoed by Democrats in Maryland.
“I think we need a better way of drawing our district maps, but the reality is legislative and congressional districts are fundamentally political and to deny that is naïve,” said Sen. Cheryl Kagan (D-17).
Democrats in Maryland said they want redistricting reform but only if they can get it in other states.
Del. Kumar Barve (D-17) said Maryland should reform the way it draws its congressional map only if Republican state legislators in other states such as Pennsylvania, Michigan and Texas do the same. Barve said he has not reached out to representatives in other state legislatures about redistricting reform.
“I will support any bill that will require other states to go along with us,” said Barve, who sits on the House of Delegates Rules and Executive Nominations Committee, which is considering the governor’s proposal.
While the General Assembly considers reform, Maryland could get a new district map through the courts. American University law student Steve Shapiro has filed suit claiming Maryland’s 6th Congressional District violates his and other Republicans’ right to freely associate. In August a panel of three federal judges voted to allow the suit to proceed, which means that it could possibly end up in from of the United States Supreme Court.
A federal judge has subpoenaed O’Malley, along with Maryland Senate President Sen. Thomas “Mike” Miller (D-27) and House Speaker Del. Michael Busch (D-30) on the lawsuit.
“How can we expect people to vote if their voice has been carved into irrelevance by a political map ahead of time?” O’Malley said.