A supermajority of Maryland’s state Senate passed Gov. Martin O’Malley’s redistricting plan Tuesday, sending the measure to the House of Delegates, which could take a final vote as early as Wednesday.
The 33-to-13 vote was not without drama, however.
At the height of a forceful debate, Sen. C. Anthony Muse (D-Prince George’s) charged that the Democratic-controlled legislature was putting party politics before voters and manipulating minority communities that have long been a stalwart of Democratic Party support in the state.
If passed by the House, the once-in-a-decade redistricting would keep two of Maryland’s eight congressional districts majority African American but would split majority-minority Montgomery County and other areas into districts that critics contend would only be able to elect white lawmakers for years to come. A big goal of O’Malley’s plan is to position Maryland Democrats to unseat Republican Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett, giving the party seven of the state’s eight seats in the U.S. House of Representatives.
“It’s most unfortunate that the choice placed before us will not only put the good of the party over the good of the people. In fact, I believe it pits the party against the people,” said Muse.
“It pits the party against a minority population that down through the decades has been [Democrats’] most loyal supporters. And yet we stand at this moment in history determined to reward that loyalty by diluting their political power, weakening their voices and shrinking their districts. ... I believe our citizens deserve representation that is fair and equal.”
Muse, a pastor at Ark of Safety Christian Church in Upper Marlboro and who is considering a primary challenge to U.S. Sen. Benjamin Cardin (D), was just getting warmed up:
“Counties like Prince George’s are often counted on to deliver the votes that will ensure victory for the Democratic Party ... but where are the rewards to match the loyalty?” he asked.
“Why must strong and growing minority populations be diluted? Yes, the party walks away with maybe seven seats. But what do our minority populations walk away with? Their concerns are growing right along with their numbers ... but we get not only the same two seats we already have, but we get smaller, weaker seats with watered-down representation.”
That sentiment was echoed by state Republicans who could also benefit from protecting their two current seats if the state drew three majority-minority districts.
Sen. Catherine E. Pugh (D-Baltimore), who chairs the assembly’s Legislative Black Caucus, countered that the new redistricting plan would position Rep. Steny H. Hoyer’s 5th Congressional District in Southern Maryland to shift to a majority-minority district within a decade.
“This is not an easy process,” she said. “But this is a good plan.”