WITH ITS preposterously gerrymandered congressional voting districts, Maryland is an outstanding example of why states need nonpartisan redistricting reform. But the redistricting bill that emerged this year in Annapolis — in equal parts cynical and ludicrous — makes clear that the Democrats who dominate both houses of the General Assembly there remain loath to part with the incumbent-protection racket that enables them to choose their voters and perpetuate their grip on power with scant regard for good governance.
The bill, sponsored by Sen. Craig J. Zucker (D-Montgomery), is an Alphonse-and-Gaston arrangement, except that in this case there is not one Gaston but five. It would establish a nonpartisan commission to draft the state’s congressional districts — so far so good — but only if five other Eastern Seaboard states agreed in lockstep to do the same. (They are New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Virginia and North Carolina.)
Why Mr. Zucker and the Democratic leadership didn’t throw in some Rocky Mountain and New England states, plus Alabama and New Mexico (among others) for good measure, is beyond us. As long as Maryland has chosen to enact legislation governing other states’ conduct, why stop at just five?
Maryland may count as the nation’s most heavily gerrymandered state where Democrats control the legislature, which explains their hostility to the idea of unilateral reform. If Republicans are crafting gerrymandered voting maps to maximize their clout in Congress, their argument goes, why should Democrats be so pure, especially if it costs them a seat or two in Maryland?
For one thing, it’s the right thing to do. Drawing voting maps so as to minimize electoral competition is anti-democratic. It’s also a disservice to constituents in whose name lawmakers work and whose effective representation is far less likely if they are divided into sprawling, ink-blot-shaped districts, with voters whose interests may be divergent. (See Maryland’s helter-skelter 6th District, which couples parts of suburban Montgomery County with rural Western Maryland, which is closer to parts of Ohio than to Rockville.)
But let’s say Annapolis Democrats are purely self-interested; they’re politicians, after all. In that case, they might consider the fact that a poll conducted in February by Goucher College found that 73 percent of Maryland voters backed an independent redistricting commission — without the proviso that it be established in conjunction with similar commissions in a bunch of other states.
The Democratic bill is a fig leaf designed to obscure its contempt for actual redistricting reform of the sort Gov. Larry Hogan, a Republican, has proposed for the past two years. Mr. Hogan’s bills, killed in committee by Democrats, would establish a commission to redraw the state’s wildly gerrymandered lines, in order to fashion relatively compact districts composed of more like-minded constituents.
Mr. Hogan, usually reluctant to pick a political fight in a state that tilts heavily Democratic, has vetoed the Democrats’ faux reform bill, setting up a possible veto override. If Democrats do muster the votes to override the veto and enact their bill, it will enshrine their own cynicism and ensure that no real redistricting reform takes place in Maryland.