Republican Gov. Larry Hogan is pulling out all the stops — including asking for President Obama’s help — in pressing Maryland’s Democratic-controlled legislature to vote on his plan for redistricting reform before lawmakers adjourn for the year on Monday.
It is almost certainly not going to happen.
Hogan has proposed putting a referendum on the November ballot that would ask voters whether they want a nonpartisan commission to redraw the state’s voting boundaries, which are widely considered to be among the nation’s most gerrymandered, or manipulated to give one party an advantage.
In a state with an extremely popular Republican governor and a 2-to-1 ratio of registered Democrats to registered Republicans, all but one of the state’s eight congressional seats is held by a Democrat. The state constitution gives the legislature and governor authority to create congressional and legislative districts every 10 years.
Six states use nonpartisan redistricting committees to draw their voting maps, and the idea is broadly popular among Maryland residents. But leading Democrats, whose party holds large majorities in the House and the Senate, say they will not consider making Maryland’s system more balanced unless other states whose maps favor Republicans do the same.
The House and Senate held hearings on Hogan’s proposal more than a month ago, but no vote has been held on whether to advance the measure.
“There can be no possible excuse for keeping this bill hidden in a drawer and simply ignoring the will of nearly every person in Maryland,” Hogan said at a news conference this week. “It’s time for legislators to join with us and set an example for the entire nation.”
On Wednesday, Hogan’s office released a letter the governor sent to the White House requesting assistance from Obama, who has been a vocal advocate for national redistricting reform during his final year in office.
“There are only days left in the legislative session, and next year, we may not have as strong an advocate in the White House as you have been on this issue,” Hogan wrote. “With your intervention, I believe we could set things right in Maryland.”
The White House so far has not responded to the letter, which a spokesman for Maryland House Speaker Michael E. Busch (D-Anne Arundel) called an attempt to make “political hay.” Busch and Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert) have said Maryland should wait for Congress to enact redistricting reform nationwide, or for a regional agreement that involves Republican-controlled states.
Jeremy Baker, a spokesman for Busch, said the speaker is going to focus on “issues of immediate importance to middle-class families” — such as paid sick leave and retirement benefits — during the final days of the legislative session.
“After session, the speaker plans to continue to reach out to legislative leaders in the Mid-Atlantic to gauge interest in a bipartisan, regional approach to redistricting reform,” Baker said.
Much like Democrats in Maryland’s General Assembly, the Republican majority in Congress is reluctant to take away redistricting power from GOP lawmakers in red states.
When asked whether Hogan would consider a multi-state deal, which has been proposed by some Maryland lawmakers, aides to the governor said the state should lead on the issue.
“Marylanders don’t want to have to wait for action in some other state before they can get fair election districts at home,” Hogan spokesman Matt Clark said.
A lawyer for Maryland’s General Assembly provided Democrats with ammunition against Hogan’s proposal last month, saying in a letter to Sen. Joan Carter Conway (D-Baltimore), who had requested advice on the matter, that the legislation was essentially too poorly written to be workable.
Hogan’s office responded last week by saying lawmakers could address any problems with the bill by amending it.
In Virginia, where Republicans hold eight of 11 congressional seats, legislative proposals to establish an independent redistricting commission have made no progress.
Virginia’s districts are being challenged in a case that the U.S. Supreme Court heard last month. The justices are expected to issue a ruling about June.