Senator proposes two-state solution on redistricting reform

Sen. Jamie Raskin would like to form a compact with Virginia to achieve redistricting reform.

Could Virginia be the answer to Maryland's convoluted congressional district map? A Montgomery County lawmaker thinks so.

Sen. Jamie Raskin, a Democrat, has introduced legislation that would seek to enlist the Old Dominion in what he calls the Potomac Fair Representation Compact to eliminate congressional gerrymandering in both states.

Under the proposal, Maryland and other states would establish an independent redistricting commission -- with representatives of both parties and unaffiliated voters -- to propose new, less partisan district lines in both states. While the bill leaves the compact open for other states, Raskin said Virginia is the state he has in mind.

"Maryland and Virginia could do America an amazing favor by showing that redistricting reform is something we can do together," he said.

Raskin's bill is an alternative to Gov. Larry Hogan's proposed legislation to put redistricting in Maryland in the hands of an independent, nonpartisan commission. The bill is given little chance in a General Assembly dominated by Democrats.

The ruling parties in individual states have little incentive to adopt reforms on their own, Raskin said. But he suggested that states dominated Democrats may be willing to move to a fairer system if states controlled by Republicans make a similar move.

Raskin said Maryland and Virginia would make good partners in such a compact because they are politically mirror images of each other. He noted that while Maryland has a Republican governor and a Democratic legislature, Virginia has the reverse.

Neither state, Raskin said, has clean hands when it comes to gerrymandering. Maryland is regarded as one of the most gerrymandered states in the nation, with a serpentine Third District that has been been held up as a model of creative mapping for its winding course from Baltimore County to Montgomery County. Virginia isn't far behind and has had some of its maps rejected by courts.

Maryland's congressional district lines have been drawn in a way that has yielded a 7-1 Democratic advantage -- hardly proportional representation, Raskin admits. But in Virginia, a state with two Democratic senators that President Obama carried twice, the district lines have been drawn to produce an 8-3 GOP advantage in the U.S. House of Representatives.

The compact would require Virginia to decide to go along. Any commission-drawn map would require the approval of the state legislatures involved, though neither could amend the compact plan.

Raskin acknowledges that he has yet to enlist a partner in the Virginia General Assembly. Nor does he have any co-sponsors, Republican or Democratic. Variations on his proposal have died in committee in past years.

Nevertheless, Raskin said his proposal "puts everybody's seriousness to the test."

"Republicans are being critical of gerrymandering in Maryland, but they should also be critical of gerrymandering in [GOP-dominated] Ohio, North Carolina and Virginia," Raskin said.

Hogan isn't buying into Raskin's argument. The Republican governor is sticking with his bill.

“It is very encouraging to learn that Senator Raskin supports redistricting reform and the need to finally bring fair and equal elections to our state," said Hogan spokesman Doug Mayer. "However, as the governor has made clear, he doesn't believe that Maryland’s leaders need to wait for others to act in order to do what is right. I am sure the good senator would agree on that sentiment.”

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