WITH TWO weeks remaining in Maryland’s three-month legislative session, Democratic lawmakers in Annapolis have stopped just short of extending a Bronx cheer to Gov. Larry Hogan’s proposal for nonpartisan redistricting reform.
Never mind that the plan from Mr. Hogan, a Republican, is enormously popular with state residents. It foresees a constitutional amendment that would shift control of the redistricting process from self-interested elected lawmakers, who treat it exclusively as an incumbent-protection racket. In its place would be established an independent, nine-member panel that would draw district voting maps without regard to voting history or partisan leanings.
According to a recent Goucher College poll, that idea enjoys deep and wide support in Maryland. It is favored by large majorities of Democrats and Republicans; men and women; blacks and whites; young and old. Indeed, almost no other issue in the state elicits such one-sidedly favorable reaction. Practically the only Marylanders who overwhelmingly oppose Mr. Hogan’s blueprint are Democrats in the General Assembly.
Small wonder. Democrats enjoy a 2-to-1 advantage in voter registration in Maryland, but they have leveraged their control of the legislature into a heavily gerrymandered map that has yielded a congressional delegation of seven Democrats and one Republican. The state’s tortuous political cartography includes the shambolic 3rd Congressional District — likened in shape to a “broken-winged pterodactyl” by a federal judge — which slices from Baltimore to Montgomery County in the course of assembling its unassailable Democratic majority.
Of course, Maryland Democrats are no more culpable in rigging the electoral system than are Republicans in GOP-dominated states, including Virginia, who are equally adept at cherry-picking voters by means of computer-assisted map-drawing. And, like GOP officials elsewhere, Maryland Democrats are fond of justifying their refusal to consider redistricting reform with the argument that it amounts to unilateral political disarmament.
Some say they might entertain some version of reform, but only if it were in tandem with Virginia, whose Democratic governor and Republican-dominated legislature make it Maryland’s political mirror image. State Sen. Jamie Raskin, a Takoma Park Democrat, has offered a bill that would take a step in that direction — if Virginia played along by establishing its own independent, nonpartisan redistricting commission.
In the real world, the chances of Annapolis Democrats coordinating such a step with Richmond Republicans are infinitesimal. Maryland House Speaker Michael E. Busch (D-Anne Arundel) said he’d float the idea with GOP counterparts in Virginia, but no one’s holding their breath for a Kumbaya moment.
In fact, the idea of a two-state solution is a cop-out, a cheap excuse for lawmakers who have refused to take action that is clearly in their constituents’ best interests. In Virginia, gerrymandering has resulted in state legislative districts so grotesquely tilted that the vast majority of incumbents have no serious challengers. In Maryland, real democracy in state legislative races has been similarly degraded.
The continued inaction is an affront to democracy that distorts and subverts the popular will. Both Mr. Hogan and Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe, a Democrat, have called for reform. By ignoring those calls, legislators demonstrate their contempt for voters.