Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley’s congressional redistricting plan could win final approval as early as Wednesday after it sailed through the state Senate on Tuesday with only one dissenting Democratic vote.
The plan to redraw Maryland’s eight congressional districts was bolstered Tuesday by a fresh round of arguments from African American lawmakers who said it would do far more good for the state than bad. And opponents of the plan on the Legislative Black Caucus acknowledged that they did not have enough support to block the measure to demand that the caucus take an official position.
“I’m not satisfied with the bill, but that’s the way it is,” said Del. Aisha N. Braveboy (D-Prince George’s). “I think the people of Maryland will remain very concerned with how this process unfolded.”
A supermajority of the state Senate approved O’Malley’s (D) redistricting plan Tuesday by a vote of 33 to 13, sending the measure to the House of Delegates, which will begin debate Wednesday morning and could take a final vote late in the day.
If passed, 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 into three districts that critics contend would be able to elect only white lawmakers for years to come.
In exchange, Democrats would gain a voter registration advantage in the 6th District and position the party to unseat Republican Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett, potentially giving Democrats seven of Maryland’s eight seats in the House of Representatives.
Sen. C. Anthony Muse (Prince George’s) was the only Democrat to vote against the proposal, and he built on recent criticism by Rep. Donna F. Edwards (D) that the plan would manipulate minority communities for party gain.
“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,” Muse said on the Senate floor before the vote.
Muse, a pastor at Ark of Safety Christian Church in Upper Marlboro who is considering a primary challenge to U.S. Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin (D), said minorities would be the ultimate losers in Maryland’s redistricting process.
“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.
“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,” he said.
State Sen. Delores G. Kelley (D-Baltimore County) said the plan would help all state residents by protecting Rep. Steny H. Hoyer (D), the minority whip, and other Maryland lawmakers who have ascended to positions of power. She said a recession when federal resources are increasingly scarce was no time to unseat the likes of Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger and Rep. Chris Van Hollen, the ranking Democrats on oversight, intelligence and the budget, respectively.
Sen. Catherine E. Pugh (D-Baltimore), who chairs the assembly’s Legislative Black Caucus, also stressed that Hoyer’s 5th District in Southern Maryland would probably shift to a majority-minority district within a decade.
On Monday, Isiah Leggett (D) and Rushern L. Baker (D), the county executives of Montgomery and Prince George’s, and Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, the mayor of Baltimore, testified that they strongly support the governor’s plan.
Sen E.J. Pipkin (R-Queen Anne’s), the Republican whip, charged that the proposed map was little more than a plan to protect incumbents and would erode the voting rights of Maryland minorities of all stripes, Republican, racial or otherwise.
Sen. Jamie B. Raskin (D-Montgomery) said he empathized with Republicans’ concerns and wished for an overhaul to the federal process that would be more fair, but he said that given the way Republicans had stacked the deck in districts in North Carolina, Ohio and elsewhere, Maryland had little alternative to trying to make the party competitive in Bartlett’s district.
“This is not a Maryland problem with redistricting and gerrymandering. It’s an American problem. All across America, people are complaining about extremely spliced and diced, curvy swervy districts where elected officials choose voters before voters choose elected officials,” Raskin said.
“That’s the system we’ve got. It’s a process where we dress up partisan and political ambitions on both sides of the aisle in high principle but we can all tell what’s really going on.”