Over vehement objections from one of Maryland’s African American members of Congress, black state lawmakers on Saturday moved closer to endorsing a plan to lump 120,000 minority voters in Montgomery County into a mostly white district in Western Maryland to unseat the state’s senior Republican lawmaker.
Rep. Donna F. Edwards (D) argued unsuccessfully that black state lawmakers should go against Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) and vote en masse to force him to find another way to upend 10-term Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett and give Democrats another seat in their quest to retake control of the House of Representatives.
“This map is deeply flawed. It is a map that doesn’t require minor changes — it requires major changes,” Edwards told state lawmakers Saturday morning at a meeting in Prince George’s County. She repeated that sentiment in an emotional, closed-door meeting later in the day with the state’s Legislative Black Caucus in Annapolis, but to little avail.
In a chaotic series of motions that ended hours of debate, the caucus voted to endorse the map drawn by O’Malley’s redistricting commission, but a handful of Edwards’s allies bolted for the door to prevent a quorum to make the tally official, lawmakers said.
“There was a vote, and the governor’s plan won,” said one of four lawmakers who were in the meeting and spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to release details of the caucus’s actions.
Asked about the validity of the vote, Caucus Chair Sen. Catherine E. Pugh (D-Baltimore) said she had determined there was not a quorum and that she would seek to bring the black caucus back together Monday for a final ballot before the General Assembly convenes in a special session to vote on the plan.
The likelihood that the caucus will support it as is, however, seemed to be supported by O’Malley’s chief legislative aide, Joseph Bryce, who emerged from the meeting saying the governor’s office had no plans to make substantive changes to the map. Late Saturday, O’Malley’s office released the map the governor will ask the General Assembly to approve this week. It is nearly identical to one released more than a week ago.
The caucus’s support for the plan is critical to ensuring that the General Assembly can pass the map with the supermajority needed to insulate it from any Republican attempts to petition it to referendum and to make sure the new boundaries are official before Maryland’s primary on April 3, party officials have said.
But Edwards left Saturday’s meeting undeterred, and her staff said she would use the reprieve to publish and begin building support for an alternative map before Monday.
Edwards and some other African American and Hispanic lawmakers in Montgomery began condemning the plan by the O’Malley redistricting commission early last week, saying it would dilute voting power of minorities in the county.
The plan swings Bartlett’s 6th Congressional District south along Interstate 270, into what is now the 8th District, territory represented by Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D). In exchange, Van Hollen’s area would grow north and west into what is now Bartlett’s.
The swap would encompass nearly a quarter of a million voters and concentrate more minorities in the 6th, with a net gain of about 34,000 Hispanics, 26,000 blacks and 40,600 Asians. In exchange, Van Hollen would pick up about 97,500 whites.
The net effect, Edwards and others have said, is that Montgomery would be represented in slices of three congressional districts that would all be majority white, far different from the majority-minority composite revealed by the 2010 Census.
On Saturday, Edwards amplified her criticism, telling the gathering in Prince George’s that it would marginalize Montgomery’s black, Hispanic and Asian residents, giving them “no chance” to elect anyone other than a white lawmaker for the next 10 years.
“What that means is that unlike today . . . Montgomery County will have no prospects of electing any minority representative,” Edwards said.
“This should be a concern to all of us who care about people’s voting rights,” she added.
Edwards’s denouncements put her at odds with O’Malley and other party leaders who support the plan, and also risk isolating her from the state’s stratified party establishment before she faces reelection next year.
Under the governor’s plan, Edwards’s district would be Prince George’s-centric and flare to the East, into Anne Arundel County, potentially exposing her to a primary challenge from other Democrats in Prince George’s.
Several black lawmakers from the Washington region and beyond, however, said Saturday that despite Edwards’s objections, they were swayed to endorse the plan because two of Maryland’s eight congressional districts would remain majority African American and that the state’s senior African American member of Congress, Baltimore’s Rep. Elijah E. Cummings (D), supports the plan.
Others said they were encouraged by the way Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer’s 5th Congressional District would retain a heavy concentration of minority voters, increasing the odds that a black lawmaker could take over that seat when Hoyer retires.
The potency of Edwards’s appeal also was undercut, some said, by questions about whether she was motivated primarily to protect her own district and her chances of winning reelection.
Edwards tried to address those accusations Saturday, saying that many had ascribed unfounded motives to her opposition of the plan.
“Some say . . . I am doing this because somehow I will lose a fundraising base in Montgomery County,” she told lawmakers. “Let me tell you the numbers. I’ve raised over $3 million in my campaigns . . . and about $79,000 of that” has come from donors in Montgomery. “That’s about 2.5 percent of the money I have raised. This is not about money. It’s about representation,” she said. Edwards has raised the most money in the District, New York and California.
Edwards also sought to lift the veil on the behind-the-scenes negotiations that produced the map, saying there were many discussions among the state’s six Democratic members of Congress about whether to go after the seat held by Bartlett or that of Maryland’s other Republican, freshman Rep. Andy Harris, in the 1st District on the Eastern Shore.
Edwards said that Hoyer and the other four preferred a plan to swing the Eastern Shore district into Prince George’s to use its growing African American population to make the 1st District winnable for a Democrat.
“Every member of our delegation supported that except for me,” she said in an interview Saturday. Asked if she thought the new shape of her district, into Anne Arundel, was retaliation, Edwards said: “I never want to ascribe motives to anyone. I just know that what is happening now is wrong. . . . People’s interests in Montgomery County are not going to be fairly considered.”
One of the first lawmakers to leave as the vote was taking place Saturday was Del. Tiffany T. Alston (D-Prince George’s), who was recently charged with felony theft from her campaign account. “We’re going to wait for congresswoman Edwards’s amendments and we’ll . . . see what happens on Monday,” Alston said.