Maryland lawmakers approve redone congressional map
ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) — The Democrat-controlled Maryland General Assembly approved a quickly redrawn congressional map on Wednesday, five days after a judge struck down the one lawmakers approved in December as unconstitutional for diluting the voice of Republican voters.
The initial plan, which was the first congressional map drawn by Democrats to be struck down this redistricting cycle, now goes to Republican Gov. Larry Hogan. The governor has been a leading critic of the legislature’s redistricting process and has a separate plan he has been advocating.
The House rejected an amendment proposed by Del. Neil Parrott, a Washington County Republican, that would have substituted the map supported by the governor.
The legislature has been scrambling to approve a new map for the state’s eight U.S. House districts after Judge Lynne Battaglia ordered a new one to be drawn by Wednesday. The judge has scheduled a hearing for Friday to consider a new plan.
The new map makes the districts more compact, but Republican lawmakers contend it’s still riddled with unfair partisan gerrymandering that would likely preserve the 7-1 advantage Democrats have over the GOP in the state’s U.S. House delegation in a state where registered Democrats outnumber Republicans 2-1.
“This map barely gives lip service to Judge Battaglia’s ruling,” said Del. Kathy Szeliga, a Baltimore County Republican who was one of the lawmakers who filed a lawsuit against the initial map, adding that the redrawn version is “still an extreme gerrymander.”
Del. Eric Luedtke, the House majority leader, said the new map has significantly more compact districts and reduces the number of county crossings in districts.
“This map makes every effort to meet the judge’s requirements in the order,” Luedtke, a Montgomery County Democrat, said.
The map approved in December by a panel of lawmakers added Democrats to the lone Republican-held district, making a more competitive race for Republican Rep. Andy Harris. It also created the potential for Democrats to go 8-0 in Maryland.
The new map removes a portion that stretched Harris’ Eastern Shore district across the Chesapeake Bay into an area with more Democrats and restores GOP strength in the 1st Congressional District.
Some have also noted that the new map makes the congressional district in western Maryland more competitive, which incumbent Rep. David Trone, a Democrat, acknowledged in a statement Wednesday.
So far, courts have intervened to block maps they found to be GOP gerrymanders in North Carolina, Ohio and Pennsylvania.
In her 94-page ruling, Battaglia described the initial map as a “product of extreme partisan gerrymandering.” She found it violated the state constitutional requirement that legislative districts consist of adjoining territory and be compact in form, with due regard for natural boundaries and political subdivisions. It also violated the state constitution’s free elections, free speech and equal protection clauses, she said.
Senate President Bill Ferguson and House Speaker Adrienne Jones have said the new map is contingent on the loss of an appeal of the judge’s ruling. Attorney General Brian Frosh’s office announced shortly after the vote that an appeal to the state’s appellate courts has been filed.
Hogan, a longtime critic of how the state’s political boundaries have been drawn, has been pushing for the adoption of a map by a panel he created by executive order. The governor has said that map was written by an independent panel that took politicians out of the process of drawing districts.
Maryland’s highest court already had delayed the state’s primary in a big election year from June 28 to July 19. Voters will decide all 188 seats in the state legislature, open statewide offices such as governor, attorney general and comptroller, a U.S. Senate seat and all eight congressional seats.