Minority growth in Washington’s Maryland suburbs translate into more African American, Hispanic and Asian state lawmakers under a plan released late Friday by Gov. Martin O’Malley’s redistricting commission.
African Americans would become a majority in two Prince George’s County state Senate districts now held by white lawmakers. A combination of Hispanics, Asians and blacks would also make up 50 percent or more of two Montgomery County districts now held by white state senators.
Statewide, the number of African American majority districts would increase from 10 to 12, and majority minority districts would double from two to four. The House of Delegates would also gain the first single-member majority Hispanic district along the border of Montgomery and Prince George’s.
Jeanne Hitchcock, a longtime O’Malley advisor and chair of the governor’s redistricting commission said the map addresses many of the concerns that citizens raised during a series of public hearings, as well as court instructions requiring the state to respect natural and political boundaries in the once-in-a-decade redistricting process.
“We tried to draw a map that reflects where the population of Maryland has shifted,” she said, noting the proposed map has fewer districts that cross county boundaries and also puts a handful of communities such as Camp Springs and Montgomery Village back together for representation in the legislature.
With Democrats firmly in control of redistricting in Maryland, the state’s legislative map has historically drawn fierce opposition and legal fights. Ten years ago, the state’s top court threw out the map approved by then Gov. Parris N. Glendening and the General Assembly and redrew it.
This time around, however, a legal fight over the state’s Congressional map could overshadow concerns about the legislative one. A hearing is scheduled for Tuesday in federal court in Greenbelt on a lawsuit by a grassroots civil-rights group and Republicans. The two contend the map dilutes minority voting strength for the purpose of trying to unseat Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett, the state’s senior Republican.
Gov. Martin O’Malley will preside over a public hearing on the proposed legislative map a day later, on Thursday, Dec. 22 in Annapolis.
The governor must formally introduce the plan when the General Assembly reconvenes on Jan. 11. State lawmakers critical of the plan have 45 days to try to pass an alternative, but given that the House Speaker and Senate President both sat on the governor’s redistricting commission and approved the plan, it’s almost certain the governor’s commission’s plan will hold.
The commission, however, did leave one “alternative” for O’Malley and the legislature to consider. It would create a majority Hispanic district in Montgomery, but at the expense of making the surrounding districts far less diverse.
Hitchcock and other O’Malley aides said the commission was reluctant to endorse the proposal because it could have the net effect of reducing the chances of minorities to get elected elsewhere.
The map’s most controversial changes could be to districts in and around Baltimore. A major drop in the city’s population since the 2000 Census had raised the specter of the city losing one of its six Senate seats.
But the commission formed by O’Malley, the city’s former governor, found a way to maintain six seats connected to the city by funneling one district far to the west in Baltimore County.
Hitchcock said the move reflected a natural migration of blacks in that direction.