A highly partisan and racially charged plan to redraw Maryland’s congressional districts advanced in the state Senate late Monday, despite protests from good-government groups and an eleventh-hour attempt to derail it by one of the state’s two African American members of Congress.
The plan’s early momentum suggested that Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) and Democratic legislative leaders could fend off challenges from Republicans and from within their own ranks to meet a well-publicized goal of pushing the measure through a special session of the General Assembly and into law by week’s end.
View an interactive graphic of the eight proposed districts.
Barring surprises to alter that trajectory, the plan could position Maryland as a weapon next year in the Democrats’ attempts to retake control of the U.S. House of Representatives. The plan would probably upend Maryland’s senior Republican House member, Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett, by forcing the 85-year-old Western Marylander to win reelection in a district that would gain nearly 350,000 mostly liberal voters in Montgomery County.
O’Malley on Monday downplayed several days of vocal criticism from Rep. Donna F. Edwards (D), who would no longer represent the county and who has charged that the proposal would dilute the voting power of blacks, Hispanics and Asians in the majority-minority county. The measure is expected to pass the Senate on Tuesday and go to the House of Delegates.
The governor tried to turn attention to another idea — a plan to raise the state’s gas tax and potentially other revenue to help create jobs. When asked about comments by Edwards, he called his plan “fair and balanced” and cast complaints by Edwards and a handful of other African American and Hispanic lawmakers in Montgomery as “a very, very narrow criticism, not held by the vast majority.”
Edwards attempted to undermine support for O’Malley’s plan on Monday by proposing an alternative map that she said would maintain her current percentage of African American voters and allow her to continue to represent eastern Montgomery.
The plan was met with immediate criticism, however, with several state lawmakers saying they viewed it as little more than a scheme to insulate Edwards from a potential primary challenge from other politicians in Prince George’s County, where her district would be heavily concentrated in the future.
“How is this any better?” asked state Sen. Victor Ramirez (D-Prince George’s), who questioned why Edwards’s plan only marginally changed the percentage of Hispanic voters in each district, doing little to let the growing voter block in the Washington region attempt to elect a federal lawmaker.
Democratic lawmakers also rebuffed harsh criticism from the League of Women Voters of Maryland, Common Cause and a handful of residents who testified before a joint committee conducting the final public hearing on the plan. Most said they were appalled at the blatant partisanship that appeared to be driving the plan. Others said that devising districts to tilt the state’s current 6 to 2 majority for Democrats to 7 and 1 would further polarize an already paralyzed Congress.